• FEMA official calls recent rains ‘extraordinary’
     | July 10,2013
    Stefan Hard / Staff Photo

    Williamstown residents work to start a partially flooded car as another remains halfway sunk Tuesday after overnight flash flooding sent torrents of water and mud through a portion of the village. Heavy rains began around midnight Monday and continued for hours. Basements flooded and heavy damage was done to some dirt roads and driveways.

    WILLIAMSTOWN — Gov. Peter Shumlin, touring yet another flood-ravaged Vermont community Tuesday, heard from officials and residents who were starting to clean up mud and add up the damage after the sky opened again overnight.

    Shumlin was joined by Mark Landry, the top Federal Emergency Management Agency official for Vermont, who has been working in the state almost nonstop since Tropical Storm Irene inundated much of the state almost two years ago.

    “We have not seen things like this. It’s extraordinary, it’s unusual. I don’t know if it’s a phenomenon or if it’s the new normal,” Landry said after touring the flooded business district in Williamstown village. “Business, unfortunately, has been very good in the emergency management world.”

    Shumlin, who has visited flood scenes in Warren, Underhill, Granville and other communities in recent weeks, is frustrated.

    “We can’t keep our heads above water. We can’t get rid of this rain,” he said. “It’s just unrelenting and discouraging.”

    In the last 16 days, damaging amounts of rain have fallen in localized flash floods that overflowed rivers and streams, cutting roads, turning yards into swamps across central Vermont, and frustrating many people eager for summer sun. Two people have been swept away and died after swimming in fast-moving rivers.

    Before the recent downpours, there were rainy periods in May and June.

    There have been similar problems in New York and New Hampshire.

    The weather pattern has been caused by an unprecedented meteorological blocking pattern that has kept moist tropical air centered over the Northeast as well as much of the eastern United States, said Scott Whittier, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Burlington.

    Whittier said FEMA asked him if the rainy weather, which has brought violent thunderstorms that caused much flash flooding, was a single weather event. If it is declared a single event it would be easier for the state to ask the president for a disaster declaration that could help rebuild damaged infrastructure.

    “I am comfortable that the overall weather pattern is tied in together,” Whittier said.

    He said the moist, wet weather has been blocked and prevented from moving away.

    “To have a blocking pattern of nearly two weeks where ... every day or every other day (there has been) some extreme precipitation event that allows for localized flash flooding is somewhat — just in my 20-year tenure — unprecedented,” Whittier said.

    If the floods were separated by more than three days, each event would have to be considered separately, Landry said.

    Whittier said Vermont is in its third major wet period since spring.

    A presidential disaster declaration already has been issued for flooding in Chittenden, Washington and Essex counties between May 22 and May 26.

    During his tour of Williamstown, Landry heard from resident Brandy Todd, who said her village property had been flooded for the third time.

    “How often do I have to go through this?” she said, pointing to her inundated backyard that was covered in thick mud. She said her car and pool had been destroyed.

    “This is the worst time. You go into my backyard and all I see is my driveway that was over there,” Todd said. “What do I do? I don’t have flood insurance. I’m not in a flood zone. How do I recover from this again and again and again? I don’t know who to call, what to do or where to go.”

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