For most of Vermont, last summer was about Tropical Storm Irene and the widespread damage it inflicted on the state. But it was a year ago today that a preamble to Irene rocked Barre, Berlin and Montpelier and the surrounding towns.
It was just as sudden, and for many families, just as tragic as Irene.
The extreme weather that caused those intense rains and flooding was a pointed lesson in emergency preparedness. Standard operating procedures were dusted off and revised.
Overnight, certain decisions were made for us.
The storm, which dumped several inches of rain in waves over a matter of a few hours, tested the emergency services response, and put the communities along Route 2 on alert if there had been a breach.
Similarly, many central Vermont towns were forced to look at infrastructure, such as the size of culverts that could not handle the flow of water rushing through them; the storm also has spurred fresh inspections of roads (especially dirt roads), bridges and stormwater and wastewater systems.
City and town engineers started looking at how water was flowing, especially through Barre, and reconsidered redirecting streams or dredging as options.
The storm put to the test the recently adopted flood plains that the federal government had reconfigured.
Mobile homes in Berlin and other communities were severely damaged, displacing families and forcing shelters to be set up for an extended time. Municipalities, the state and even the federal government were forced to re-examine rules, regulations, ordinances and even how insurance and compensation should be handled for these mobile park owners and their residents, and how they should rebuild.
In many cases, rebuilding was not worth it, and deals had to be reached to buy out the homes and help the families find new places.
Other homes, even a few on higher ground, had been put at risk because of irrigation issues or poor planning and zoning that resulted in mini-landslides or mudslides.
Businesses, including the Times Argus, were damaged and had to rebuild; they had to navigate the bureaucracy, tango with banks and insurance companies, and sometimes seek counsel from FEMA and the Small Business Administration to expedite the process. In some cases, the cleanup proved to be the pleasant part.
Apart from residents along the Champlain lakeshore, who suffered prolonged high water during the spring, people outside of central Vermont were mainly unaffected by the freak storm. So they had little idea how traumatizing it had been. Quietly and resiliently, residents and businesses in central Vermont put themselves back together and moved forward, taking an inventory of lessons learned.
And then, three months to the day, Tropical Storm Irene touched down and devastated much of the state. Barre and Montpelier were spared major damage, but other areas in central Vermont suffered destruction similar to that elsewhere in the state. Thus, the spring flood was a bitter prelude to the destruction that brought ruination to towns from Wilmington in the south, northward through the state’s many river valleys.
Today, signs of the flood linger along riverbeds and streams. A few bridges remain closed, and many families and businesses are still in recovery mode. But as we look outside at the routine flow of our lives, Vermonters can take pride in how far they have come since the spring flood of 2011 arrived as a harbinger of coming devastation. “Vermont Strong” is not just a slogan. It is a state of mind that carried Vermont through the worst natural disaster in nearly a century.MORE IN Editorials
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