Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
Scott Whittier of the National Weather Service speaks Tuesday with Gov. Peter Shumlin looking over his shoulder during a press conference at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury.
MONTPELIER — Vermont officials breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday after emerging from Superstorm Sandy largely unscathed, but local and state leaders immediately compared other states’ hardships from the still unfolding disaster to those that Vermonters recently faced.
“We are pleased that we have escaped the bullet on Sandy without more damage, without loss of life,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said Tuesday morning at the Vermont State Emergency Operations Center at the Waterbury office complex, adding how Vermont plans to assist other states as much as possible.
Officials said recovery efforts by other states will be similar to those the Green Mountain State undertook after Irene, and Shumlin pledged his support to neighboring states.
Waterbury is one community still recovering from Irene, and elected officials there spoke from experience about how Sandy was affecting people along the Atlantic coast.
“I’m very worried for them,” Rep. Rebecca Ellis, D-Waterbury, said of people affected by Sandy all along the Eastern seacoast and throughout the Northeast. “I guess the one thing we learned here in Waterbury is that recovery is a very long process. The morning after, you have no idea how much work that you have ahead of you.”
In Waterbury, dozens of emergency services coordinators gathered at work stations in a command center room, where support ranged from fire and U.S. Army officials to Federal Emergency Management Agency and Green Mountain Power staff.
State Health Department staffer Ray Walker, sitting in front of a laptop and desk phone, remembered how, more than a year ago, he helped coordinate a Rutland nursing facility’s evacuation due to flooding from Irene.
While Vermont fared relatively well this time, the state did suffer some impacts from Sandy’s onslaught Monday and Tuesday. At one point during the storm around 40,000 utility customers in Vermont had lost power, according to Green Mountain Power officials. As of Tuesday morning, some 8,000 were still waiting for electricity to be restored.
Shumlin said the state would provide any personnel available to other states in need. He also had been in contact with the governors of New Hampshire and Connecticut and had already offered to provide help as soon as Vermonters were hooked back up to power, he said.
“We’ve had our share of storms over the last 22 months,” Shumlin said. “We’re grateful that we didn’t get hit as hard as our neighbors, but we’re going to be helping our neighbors get back on their feet in the same spirit that they exercised when we were in trouble.”
“There’s no doubt that Vermont would not have made the extraordinary progress that we did in recovering from Irene without two things: the ingenuity and goodness of Vermonters and the help that we got from out of state,” he said.
As part of the assistance that Vermont is offering, Shumlin planned to send two Vermont National Guard helicopters to New Jersey.
Shumlin joined a Tuesday afternoon conference call with neighboring states’ governors, mayors, and President Barack Obama. Obama told them to ‘not let red tape get in your way,’ according to Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who listened in on the call. Scott credited Vermonters with helping shape that attitude, he said, by the example they set in getting things done during and after Irene.
In general, the governors spoke highly of Obama’s response to the disaster, Scott added.
Vermont Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said crews had responsed to 16 emergency calls Monday night and early Tuesday involving fully- or partially-blocked roadways due to downed trees and trees leaning on power lines. The roads were all cleared as of Tuesday morning, he said.
The calls came mainly from southern Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom. One line fell across I-89 and Route 2 north of Waterbury.
Forecasters had predicted wind gusts from Sandy as high as 80 miles per hour. Winds above 60 miles per hour can cause significant damage, Shumlin said, but the actual high wind speeds recorded during the storm were generally in the range of 40 to 60 miles an hour.
Shumlin said even though Vermont was largely spared this time, people in the state will continue to be vigilant about storm warnings in the future. If there’s one lesson Vermont learned from Irene, he said, it’s to be prepared,
“We want to recognize Sandy’s wrath in other states and the struggles that they face from this point on,” Scott said, “And we want to be there to help them like they helped us.”
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