Heavy Rain, Flooding Hits Vermont — and Rivers Are Rising | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Heavy Rain, Flooding Hits Vermont — and Rivers Are Rising


Published July 10, 2023 at 1:13 p.m.
Updated July 26, 2023 at 2:13 p.m.

The Vermont Statehouse on Monday evening - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • The Vermont Statehouse on Monday evening
Updated at 11:04 p.m.

A severe storm slamming Vermont has dumped several inches of rain, flooded dozens of roads and led to water rescues. As major rivers rose, floodwaters filled the streets of communities including downtown Montpelier.

The storm has the potential to drop even more rain over a longer period of time than Tropical Storm Irene, which in 2011 caused $750 million in damage.

Gov. Phil Scott, who declared a state of emergency on Sunday afternoon in advance of the storm, said he was worried that the rising creeks and rivers will endanger residents, hamper rescue efforts and delay assessments of storm damage.

“We have not seen rainfall like this since Irene,” Scott said. This may be just the start of what we’ll see as rainfall continues and will worsen over the next several hours."
In contrast to Irene, which Scott said was largely over in 24 hours, this storm was expected to continue into Tuesday. He told federal officials from FEMA on Monday morning that he was concerned about the storm’s length as well as its intensity.

“It’s not the just initial damage,” Scott said. “It’s the second wave and the third wave.”

Virtually the entire state was under a flash flood warning. The National Weather Service reported at 7:30 a.m. that nearly five inches of rain had fallen in Chester overnight, with several more inches expected. Closer to seven inches of rain was reported in some parts of the state later in the day.

The rising Winooski River was to crest in Montpelier shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday at 22.7 feet, which is five feet above major flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. As of 8:15 p.m. on Monday, water was pouring down State Street in front of the Statehouse and threatening downtown businesses.

Interstate 89 was closed on Monday evening northbound from Berlin to Middlesex and southbound from Middlesex to Montpelier, due to high water. Once the water recedes, inspectors would have to ensure the road was safe before it could be reopened, state police said.

The American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter in Barre at 3 p.m. on Monday for those forced from their homes. It's at the Barre City Auditorium, 16 Auditorium Hill. Users should bring food, essentials such as prescriptions, clothes and chargers.

Officials opened the State Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury and expected it to operate for at least two days.

Emergency officials warned Vermonters not to attempt to drive through standing water on roads.

Scott said he’d been in touch with federal officials, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who had pledged their full support. Other states are helping, as well, with two swift boat rescue teams from North Carolina already in Vermont, and another one from New Hampshire.

Mike Cannon, head of the state’s urban search and rescue program, said the worst hit areas of the state overnight were Londonderry, Weston and Ludlow. The 14 search and rescue teams operating around the state had performed 19 boat rescues and helped evacuate 25 people from the hardest hit areas, Cannon said.

By 9 p.m., teams had conducted more than 50 rescues, according to the state.

A state park in Plymouth was evacuated, and dams in Jamaica and Calais were being closely watched to ensure their integrity, Cannon said.

Residents of Maple Corner, a community in Calais, worked to save a 123-year-old dam. For more than 18 years, state engineers have classified the dam — which was built to create Curtis Pond — as a "significant hazard.” A project to improve it is pending.
Residents tending to an old dam at Curtis Pond in Calais - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Residents tending to an old dam at Curtis Pond in Calais
Engineers have warned that a major storm could easily lead to catastrophic dam failure and potentially cause significant property damage. On Sunday, water overtopped the dam, eroding the gravel and crushed stone holding the structure together. Town officials activated emergency protocol, evacuating residents downstream.

Community members were using tractors to dig drainage holes in the dam in an attempt to alleviate water pressure. Jamie Moorby, a member of the Calais Selectboard, is looking into acquiring a water pump to assist in the drainage efforts.

“It’s unknown what is going to happen,” Moorby said. “But it’s a dramatic series of events unfolding.”
Flood water covering River Road in Berlin on Monday morning - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Flood water covering River Road in Berlin on Monday morning
Elsewhere, some areas were completely cut off due to high water closing roads.

“South Londonderry is inaccessible right now,” Cannon said.

Scott said the state had learned a great deal about flooding from Irene and spent a considerable amount of money and time rebuilding the hardest-hit areas and armoring them against future floods.
Downtown Montpelier as the Winooski River rose on Monday evening - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Downtown Montpelier as the Winooski River rose on Monday evening
But individual storms are different, and even a single tree falling in front of a culvert can cause major problems regardless of the infrastructure improvements, he said.

Joe Flynn, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, listed dozens of road closures, including parts of Route 100 in Plymouth, Route 14 in Williamstown, Route 131 in Cavendish and Route 12 in Bethel. For a complete list, click here.

Got flooding photos you can share or tips about localized flooding? Send to [email protected].

Rachel Hellman contributed reporting. This story will be updated.

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