Stefan Hard / Staff Photo Town, state and federal officials look over the remains of Flint Road in Williamstown on Tuesday after overnight flash flooding wiped out a portion of the road.
WILLIAMSTOWN — What happened overnight into Tuesday in Williamstown was the definition of localized flash flooding.
Anyone south of town might not have even noticed that it rained overnight. A mile north of the village at the time of the flood, the stars were out overhead. But the center of Williamstown saw something very different.
Specifically, if you were within a swath that ran down Flint Road to Construction Hill Road and Brush Hill Road to the intersection of routes 64 and 14 and then through the neighborhoods just below, you saw heavy rains and flooding.
Sometime around 10 p.m. Monday, rain began to fall over Williamstown in a storm that apparently stalled over the ridge between Northfield and Williamstown. By 1 a.m., all hell had broken loose as the Stevens Branch raged and topped its banks, severing roads and dumping water, mud and debris in very inconvenient places.
Town Manager Jackie Higgins got a call from Town Clerk Barbara Graham shortly after 1 a.m. and went to see what the trouble was.
“The water was over the top of the bridge at the intersection of Route 64 and Route 14,” said Higgins on Tuesday. “The water was going straight down through people’s properties. I later walked through 6 inches of silt to cross Route 14 to get a look.”
Some homeowners just below the bridge and intersection in the center of town had more than 3 feet of water in their basements, and some mobile homes had water coming up to their main floor.
“It rained heavy for a couple of hours,” said Higgins. “A mass of water went down into the village. Firefighters were up to their waists down by the ballfield.”
About 20 families were told to evacuate around 1 a.m. Tuesday as town officials, firefighters and the Red Cross worked to keep residents away from danger. The Red Cross set up a temporary shelter at Williamstown Middle/High School to house those fleeing their homes.
One young family in a mobile home on Meadow Street, next to the Little League field, was the only family unable to return home or stay with friends and family and would be put up in a hotel, Red Cross official Steve Pernicka said Tuesday.
The Red Cross also provided about 200 snacks and 100 meals to anyone who needed food, Pernicka said, either by mobile delivery trucks or at the fire station. The Red Cross also distributed cleanup tools and supplies.
Tuesday morning, Vermont Agency of Transportation District 6 workers used shovels, bucket loaders and a scrubber to remove thick silt and tree debris from the roadway, raising a cloud of fine dust as the muck began to dry out.
The Stevens Branch had carried tree limbs and at least one entire tree downstream to the bridge at the routes 14 and 64 intersection, constricting the opening and sending some of the brook’s contents into the Randolph National Bank at the corner, flooding the building. The bank was closed Tuesday, and crews began to clean up.
Richard Bottiggi, who owns the building containing apartments and Behind the Scenes Café and Pub on Route 14 and Beckett Street, said he scrambled to save items in his basement.
“By 1:30 (a.m.) I had a pickup truck backed up to the door and we were loading things in,” he said Tuesday. He managed to save many items, but the basement still had water and mud on the floor Tuesday morning.
Williamstown firefighters William Graham and Dennis Mercier pumped water Tuesday out of the basement of Linda Riddell’s home on Route 14.
Just a short way away at the Suburban Apartments property, building superintendent Jaime DeForge showed Gov. Peter Shumlin, who was touring the damage, where 3½ feet of water rushed into the basement. A stone’s throw from there, the Seaver Little League Field sat underwater, its dugouts, benches and fence trashed by the floodwaters.
Hebert Excavation Corp. owner Larry Hebert said he was able to utilize heavy equipment to take emergency measures very early Tuesday morning both at the ballfield and on Flint Road. In a stroke of good fortune, Hebert happened to have heavy excavators at the site of the new public safety building under construction downtown close to the ballfield, and on Flint Road doing landscaping for a homeowner. He used one excavator to dig a trench to divert some water away from the ballfield and used the other machine to temporarily restore a portion of Flint Road over one culvert that washed out.
Rickey Winters spent part of Tuesday morning trying to revive his old Oldsmobile that he was able to pull away from the floodwaters off Beckett Street. But he wasn’t able to save his sister Shelley Winters’ Dodge Stratus parked in front of her home, where it sat sunk in a channel of water created by the flood. “That one’s got insurance, at least,” Rickey Winters said of her newer car.
“This is the worst I’ve seen in Williamstown,” said Higgins. “We had some minor damage during Irene and some other storms, but nothing this bad.”
Some minor washouts were also reported from the storm on Gilbert Road in Williamstown and Berlin Pond Road in Northfield, where a pipe blew out and repairs will necessitate closure of a portion of the road for most of today.
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