Storm-socked Vermont girds for more flooding
September 5, 2011
ROYALTON, Vt. (AP) — When the rain-swollen White River rose up and overflowed, it laid waste to the 125-year-old Perley dairy farm.
Cows were carried away. Tractors and trucks were inundated with muddy floodwaters. The water took out a road, destroyed the first floor of the farmhouse, lifted a 6-foot long tank where milk is stored, knocked out power and smothered fields in the 10-acre spread.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to make it,” said farm manager Penny Severance, 48, fighting back tears as she showed the damage to a visitor.
But help was already on the way.
On Sunday, more than two dozen volunteers donned gloves and protective masks to get to work ripping out the flood-damaged walls and floors in a bid to save the farmhouse. Farm owner Harland Perley, 81, had been moved to safety before the floods came.
Similar scenes were still being played out in homes, yards and businesses a week after Tropical Storm Irene unleashed the worst flooding in Vermont in nearly a century. Hundreds of roads and bridges were washed out, isolating whole towns and cutting off vehicle access to houses.
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At least three deaths in Vermont were blamed on the storm of the 46 total along the East Coast. One person is still reported missing in the state.
The number of Vermont homes and businesses without power — more than 70,000 in the aftermath of the Aug. 28 storm — dropped to 50 by Sunday, and work continued to restore access to cutoff communities.
But people who’ve been singularly dedicated to cleanup for nearly a week had a new worry: More flooding.
The National Weather Service predicted heavy rain would drop up to 4 inches in some places between Sunday night and Tuesday, and posted a flash flood watch.
Officials were concerned on a number of fronts. The saturated condition of riverbanks and soil made it unlikely they could absorb much more moisture, for one. Too, the repairs made to roads and bridges just to make them passable may not stand up to more flooding, Gov. Peter Shumlin warned.
“Our roads are fragile,” Shumlin said in a visit to the farm Sunday. “The places we have gotten passable again — whether they are goat paths or roads you can actually put a vehicle on — weren’t built yet for prime time. We all know our rivers and brooks have been re-routed (by the flooding), and we don’t know how they’re going to respond.”
With the Perley farm dried out for now, the workers and volunteers were hoping the skies would hold.
Severance’s son, Buddy Severance, winced as he described the loss of nearly half the farm’s 60-cow herd in last weekend’s flooding.
“We lost about 25 cows,” he said. “They went down with the river.”
Earlier Sunday, Shumlin was joined by U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Deputy Administrator Richard Serino of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a town meeting at the South Royalton Fire Department. They fielded questions from flood-weary residents.
Standing in the truck by the firehouse as he spoke, Serino said FEMA had paid out $1.5 million in individual assistance to homeowners and renters victimized by flood damage. He reassured the residents the agency’s representatives would be a constant presence.
“We’re going to be here for the long haul. We’re not just going to be in and out,” he said.
As she waited for the meeting to start, Joni Colburn, 47, of Royalton, shuddered when she heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. The riverside ranch house where she lives with husband Joe Colburn was flooded last week and has since been gutted — again by volunteers from the community.
“I don’t have any more to lose,” she said. “We’ve lost everything we have.”