Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo Gov. Peter Shumlin, center, tours the Taftsville Covered Bridge construction site Wednesday afternoon during his Tropical Storm Irene anniversary tour. The bridge is set to open to vehicles Sept. 7.
KILLINGTON — It was during a brother’s search for a lost sibling swept away by a torrent created by Tropical Storm Irene that Gov. Peter Shumlin found words to describe his belief that Vermonters would persevere despite the historic disaster.
Standing on Route 4 Wednesday afternoon, Shumlin recalled his first trip to Rutland County less than two days after the storm. At that time roads were ruined, homes were flooded and a number of towns, Killington included, were cut off from the rest of the world.
But the governor’s first order of business on Aug. 30, 2011, was to seek out Tom Garofano, who was part of a search team that had already recovered the remains of his father, Rutland Public Works employee Michael J. Garofano, and was searching for his younger brother, Michael G. Garofano.
The father and son were working to safeguard the city’s water system from the storm when the banks of the usually tranquil Mendon Brook washed away.
When he found Tom Garofano two days into what would be a three-week search, Shumlin said, he was overcome by the man’s loss.
“I said, ‘How do you get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other?’” he said.
The answer was one the governor said he will never forget.
“He said, ‘I never knew I had so many friends in Vermont or so many people that cared for me,’” Shumlin said. “And that’s the story of Vermont.”
It was a story retold in many ways Wednesday by Vermonters whose losses, while not approaching those of Garofano, appeared insurmountable in the days, weeks and months after the storm.
Even two years removed from the state’s worst natural disaster in more than 80 years, many of the Vermonters with whom Shumlin spoke during an anniversary tour of hard-hit towns said they are still waiting for relief funds or struggling to recover.
The governor made stops in Wilmington, Taftsville, Killington and Rochester, where he talked to affected residents and business owners and surveyed repaired roads and bridges.
“I still hear stories of frustration from those waiting for buyouts or who are in housing but not the kind they had before the flood,” Shumlin said.
But while some Vermonters are still waiting for federal and state relief, others like John and Patty Reagan are trying to put the hardships of Irene behind them.
The owners of Dot’s Restaurant in Wilmington are still working to restore the eatery, which was moved from its foundation when the shallow Deerfield River flooded its banks and engulfed most of the downtown.
The couple had flood insurance, but the restaurant wouldn’t be preparing to reopen in October if not for additional help from government agencies, the Preservation Trust of Vermont and private donations.
“I had one guy send me a check for $20 the day after the flood,” John Reagan said. “He said it was all he could afford but he wanted to help.”
During a packed meeting inside the Wilmington Memorial Hall where more than 100 townspeople were on hand Wednesday, Adam Grinold recalled despairing when he saw the damage done to his business, Wahoo’s Eatery.
“A friend that was with me started picking up sticks in a field of debris. I didn’t see the point to it,” he said.
But then that friend was joined by two more and then five more. An hour later, 25 people were working on the property off White’s Road, and a day later a dump truck and earth-moving equipment were at the site.
“I think we need to remind ourselves of what we can do when we work together,” said Grinold, who is also executive director of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Wilmington looked lively Wednesday under a clear blue sky, but Grinold and other townspeople noted that there are still 10 storefronts left empty by owners who couldn’t afford to reopen.
Shumlin touched on those vacancies during a speech that called on Vermonters to draw strength from successes such as the repairs to roughly 500 miles of road, 38 bridges and 1,000 culverts since the floodwaters receded.
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