As a glimmer of sunlight peeked out of the clouds above Vermont's Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury, Gov. Peter Shumlin had equally bright news to report to Vermonters in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
"We are pleased that we have escaped the bullet on Sandy without more damage [and] without loss of life," the governor told reporters Tuesday morning. Shumlin was quick to thank the hundreds of emergency personnel and utility workers who were deployed in recent days, some of whom were pulled in from as far away as Ontario. He also offered resources and equipment to nearby states to help in their recovery and cleanup.
As several million residents of New York, New Jersey and much of New England are without power and cleaning up after devastating flood and wind damage, Shumlin authorized the deployment of two Vermont National Guard helicopters to New Jersey to help in that state's recovery. The governor also said he'll be speaking to President Obama and regional governors and mayors later today to offer any assistance they may need.
"We've had our share of storms in 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."
In all, the damage to Vermont was minimal compared to the rest of the region and last year's Tropical Storm Irene. Wind speeds were lower than initially predicted, and no major infrastructure, including roads, bridges or culverts, were damaged.
What little damage did occur in Vermont was caused by tree limbs and power lines brought down in the 40- to 60-mph winds. In all, about 36,000 Vermonters lost power last night, Shumlin said. But as of 11 a.m. all but 8000 customers had their lights back on. Line workers in Vermont are now being dispatched to other states as needed.
In all, 540 workers from the Vermont Agency of Transportation were out with "sharpened chainsaws, ready to rock," Shumlin said, clearing any trees that blocked roads. Throughout the night, the AOT responded to 16 full or partial road closures as a result of trees or power lines, mostly in southern Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom. Interstate 89 south was briefly closed last night, as was Route 2 in both directions, due to downed power lines in the Bolton area. All those roads have since been cleared and reopened to traffic.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott echoed the governor's appreciation of emergency workers. He also reminded Vermonters to remember how much they struggled to get back on their feet after Irene, while most of the nation felt they'd had dodged that storm. He also pointed out that there are still some Vermonters "who are not out of the woods yet," and reminded the public to remain vigilant of potential hazards.
"We can't let our guard down," Scott added. "We have to be prepared and I think this was a great exercise for us to be prepared for the future."
Both Shumlin and Scott credited emergency management teams for the lessons learned during Irene, especially the extraordinary levels of coordination among first responders, utilities, municipalities and even the press in getting out timely information.
"If we learned a lesson from Irene, it's this: Be prepared. Make the plans. Check the boxes," Shumlin added. "Make sure you have done everything you can to be ready for disaster."
Though Vermont weather is forecast to remain windy and wet for the next few days, forecasters don't expect any major problems. As a result, Vermont's emergency operations center is expected to "demobilize" by 4 p.m. today.