As floodwaters began to subside Tuesday and Vermonters grappled with the devastation of a record-breaking storm, the shock was mixed with a growing sense of dread about the long recovery ahead and a lingering unease over the fact that other leaks may yet be discovered.
As residents began scouring run-down businesses and hundreds sought temporary housing away from flooded homes, calls for search and rescue missions continued up and down the state, fueling an anxious and volatile mood.
« It was an apocalyptic feeling, » said Dylan Woodrow, 29, of Montpelier, who paddled his kayak through more than a meter of water on Tuesday, asking people stranded in second-floor apartments if they needed help .
Throughout the day, warnings that the nearby Wrightsville Dam could reach capacity and require the release of more water kept Mr. Woodrow and other residents of Montpelier, the state capital, on their toes. Reported to be six feet below the dam’s capacity in the early morning, the water had dropped to a foot below that by afternoon, the Vermont Department of Emergency Management said in a statement.
Jennifer Morrison, the commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, said some areas were still too dangerous to reach by boat on Tuesday and that some rescues were using helicopters. She urged people to continue to avoid flooded areas. « Don’t take any chances, » she said at a news conference.
No injuries or deaths were reported by noon on Tuesday, but state leaders have stressed the persistence of danger. « I want to reiterate that we are still in the early stages of this disaster, » Ms Morrison said.
Gov. Phil Scott called the flooding « historic and catastrophic, » warning at the news conference, « It’s nowhere near over. »
The two-day storm dumped more than eight inches of rain over parts of Vermont. The storm also engulfed parts of New York state, where more than double the rain typical for the entire month of July fell in just 24 hours Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. A 43-year-old woman died Sunday in flooding in New York City as she tried to save her father’s dog.
Vermont’s Winooski River, which runs through Montpelier, crested 21 feet early Tuesday, surpassing its highest level by two feet during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, but fell short of the record set in years ’20. Irene killed more than 40 people while sweeping the East Coast, including six in Vermont.
The lessons learned helped inform a more proactive response in many Vermont cities during this week’s storm, police and fire chiefs said, as they preemptively evacuated residents from low-lying areas, efforts that may have helped prevent casualties.
Rescue teams from more than a half-dozen other states brought fresh personnel and equipment into central Vermont on Monday and Tuesday, but for the small volunteer firefighters, the sustained effort was a strain. Deputy chief Matthew Romei of the Berlin fire brigade said some members of his department worked 28 hours without a break. He credited them for responding to a mudslide that covered a roadway in Barre and streets where sinkholes had opened, clearing chunks of sidewalk.
« They have to rest and recover, » he said, « or they can’t continue. »
Interstate 89 reopened Tuesday morning after a portion of it was closed in both directions overnight, stranding dozens of drivers who had found themselves stranded on on-ramps or at rest areas. However, many secondary roads remained closed, adding to residents’ concerns.
« We’re safe, but we’re also basically stuck here, » said Steve Sease, 76, of Montpelier. “There’s no way for us to get to anything important. How would we get to the hospital if someone gets hurt?
Others, like Kayla Chartier, 34, have wondered how long power outages and bus line cancellations could last. Ms Chartier, who lives in a second-floor apartment on Montpelier’s flooded Main Street, said she waded into deep water Monday night to find somewhere to charge her phone, and that she tripped and fell into the ‘darkness. She was unable to replenish the necessary prescriptions on Tuesday, with no car of her own and no bus running.
« I feel a little hopeless, » she said.
Many business owners who eagerly waited to regain access to their stores on Tuesday soon realized their worst fears. Bob Nelson, a 40-year-old hardware store owner in downtown Barre, estimated he lost about $300,000 of inventory in the store’s flooded basement, which his insurance didn’t cover. He said the flooding was worse than after Tropical Storm Irene. « In 2011, we had almost four feet of water in the basement, » he said. « We didn’t have nine feet like we do now. »
President Biden declared a state of emergency for Vermont on Tuesday, unlocking federal resources and disaster relief.
The devastation of Montpelier closed the city at the height of the city’s summer tourist season, when visitors normally flock to its mountains, lakes and picturesque downtown. As residents contemplated the weeks and months of work to recover and rebuild, some also said they feared the damage could keep visitors away long after Main Street and its cafes and galleries reopened.
However, some in the city of about 8,000 have found solace in small gestures of support. Claire Benedict, co-owner of Bear Pond Books in downtown Montpelier, said she has received more than 50 text messages from concerned customers and friends offering to step in and help clean up the store, pledging their support when it reopens.
« This is obviously devastating for the centre, » Ms Benedict said, « but we’re not worried about getting help. »
The report was provided by Anna Betts, Daniel Victor, Hilary SwiftRichard Beven, Erin Nolan, Rebecca Carballo, Judson Jones AND Siobhan Neela-Stock.