Heavy Rains Hit Vermont Again as Flooding Washes Out Roads | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Heavy Rains Hit Vermont Again as Flooding Washes Out Roads

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Published July 11, 2024 at 8:16 a.m.

A bridge was swept away in Plainfield. - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • A bridge was swept away in Plainfield.
Updated at 4:24 p.m.

Several inches of rain fell across Vermont early Thursday morning, causing flash flooding that washed out roads, demolished bridges and destroyed an apartment building in Plainfield.

At least one person, a man who was swept away by floodwaters in Peacham, died during the storm, officials said. Dozens of other people were rescued and evacuated from the rising and rushing waters.

The swath of destruction was less intense than the historic storm that hit the state exactly one year ago, but it took aim at some of the same Vermont towns. Flooding and road closures were reported in Richmond, Bolton, Hinesburg, Waterbury, Barre, Moretown, Lyndonville, Williamstown and Plainfield. Downtown Montpelier, which was swamped last year, appeared to be relatively unscathed.

Rising rivers, which flooded and caused much of last year's damage, did not appear to be as much of a threat by Thursday morning. Instead, the flash flooding from heavy rains that began on Wednesday afternoon was responsible for most of the destruction. Standing water had also pooled in low-lying areas and fields that are prone to flooding.
Matthew Clay, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington, said Hinesburg recorded 6.61 inches of rain, the highest total in the state. Other areas received more than three inches, with localized higher amounts.

Generally speaking, rivers had crested by mid-morning Thursday and flooding was expected to subside throughout the day, Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison said at a press conference. Exceptions were the Winooski west of Waterbury, which was not expected to crest until Thursday evening; the Passumpsic River in Caledonia County; and the Lamoille River near Jefferson and Johnson, which was still cresting.

Morrison said fewer than 2,500 homes were without power. She urged anyone with damage to their homes or property to report it to 2-1-1 to help connect people with assistance and to help the state calculate damages for a possible federal disaster declaration.

Thirteen swiftwater rescue teams, including one from Connecticut and one from New Hampshire, had rescued 118 people and 15 dogs. In Peacham, police reported that Dylan Kempton, 33, was killed when his UTV was swept away after a culvert breached on a local road.

Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn reported 54 state roads and six bridges closed, as well as untold local roads. At least six wastewater treatment plants had overflowed, and the one in Lyndonville was evacuated.

Flynn also said there was "significant rail damage " in the Middlesex area that would affect Amtrak's Vermonter service.

In Monkton, a Bristol police officer was uninjured after his patrol car went down an embankment along Silver Street late Wednesday, according to state police. The officer was trying to avoid downed power lines in the roadway when he "went onto the shoulder of the northbound lane, which due to the heavy rain and flowing water gave way," police said in a statement. "The cruiser rolled approximately 30 feet down the embankment."

The Vermont Army National Guard said personnel assisted Urban Search and Rescue teams evacuated 19 people from Barre, Northfield and Moretown on Wednesday night. One team helped rescue six people from Barre, while another helped evacuate 11 people, two dogs and four cats in Barre, Northfield and Moretown. And a man was rescued from the roof of his car in Underhill.

State officials said damage assessments have begun and urged people to stay away from floodwaters. Search and rescue teams were helping with evacuations and rescues.

"Rivers and streams are running high and fast, with debris running through them," Vermont Emergency Management said in a Thursday morning update.
"For the foreseeable future, they will be unsafe for swimming and other recreation."

Gov. Phil Scott looked somber as he stepped to the microphone for his 10 a.m. press conference, the first of what will likely be many as the recovery plays out. Everyone on his team was aware of the sad irony of a new flood hitting on the anniversary of the Great Flood of 2023.

“I know the damage done to many of the very same communities that were hardest hit, on the very same day as last year, is devastating,” he said.

Scott said his heart goes out to everyone affected by the latest flooding, and he urged people to remain vigilant and aware of safety risks even as river levels subside. But he said the state’s response would be stronger because of its experience in last year’s flood.

“We will get through this,” the governor said.

Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon recounted how quickly the waters of the Stevens Branch of the Winooski River rose and jumped its banks around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. As he thanked state officials, inducing Transportation Secretary Flynn, who met Lauzon at 1 a.m. to survey the damage, Lauzon choked up.

“It’s tough. It’s tough to watch folks in your community suffer and go through this again,” he said. “But as I stand here, a bit discouraged, I’m also very proud.”

The Great Brook, a creek that feeds into the Winooski River, usually provides a harmonious backdrop to life in quiet Plainfield village. But after hours of rain, the river swelled into a boiling brown torrent, sweeping away part of a 19th-century apartment building known locally as the Heartbreak Hotel.
Damage in Plainfield - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Damage in Plainfield
Everybody who lived in the structure was able to evacuate before the apartments fell into the river around 9 p.m. on Wednesday. The Great Brook carried debris and rocks into the village, destroying at least two bridges and depositing mud, boulders and debris across a wide swath of roads and gardens.

Early Thursday, local residents walked the muddy streets and gathered on the riverbank where the bridge once stood, gazing at the ruins of the Heartbreak Hotel and conversing in shouts over the roar of the river. The air was thick with the smell of sewage and propane.

People whose homes had filled with mud stood in their doorways or chatting with neighbors, looking stunned. Lauren Geiger, who lives with her husband, Peter Young, just upriver on the Great Brook, showed a visitor a video of the couple’s backyard garden, with a bed of vegetables and flowers. On Thursday morning, it was covered in mud and oven-size boulders.
Lauren Geiger outside her home - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Lauren Geiger outside her home
The couple lost their garden to flooding last year, but this year the destruction was much more extensive. Young built the imposing brick house in 2003. Geiger said she wants to move.

“I cannot stand the constant fear, every time it starts to rain, that this is going to happen again,” she said. “And it will happen again.”

The main state highway through town, Route 2, was closed by flooding on both sides of Plainfield.
After the rain in Barre - COURTESY OF MICHAEL DEERING
  • Courtesy of Michael Deering
  • After the rain in Barre
In Barre, the water had mostly receded after filling some downtown streets overnight Wednesday into Thursday.

Barre Mayor Lauzon said a shallow river of mud washed down Main Street, the main shopping district, but local homes and businesses sustained little damage from this year’s flooding.

“It was certainly not a repeat of '23,” said Lauzon, who described a few road washouts and a film of dirt that he hopes to remove quickly with a borrowed fleet of street sweepers and loaders.

He said water in basements could be measured in inches, not feet, this year.

“The damage is real, but as I look up and down Main Street, this is more an inconvenience than a disaster,” Lauzon said.

Barre City Councilor Michael Deering told Seven Days that the north end appeared to have been hit the hardest, but it appears "we were saved from the likes of last year."

"It is such a horrible event 1 year after last year’s devastation," he said in a written message. "I have some family friends on 2nd street that their basement was flooded again and needed to be evacuated."

Deering noted that the street sweeper was already out doing cleanup on Thursday morning, "so we are steps ahead of last year."
Roads closed due to high water in Waterbury - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Roads closed due to high water in Waterbury
An official at the Northeast River Forecast Center confirmed what many in Waterbury learned too late — the Winooski River crested several feet higher than forecast. Around 8:30 p.m., shortly after a major downpour, the center’s models predicted the river would crest at Waterbury at 421.4 feet, well below the 426 feet it reached last year.

Then, at 11:37 p.m., the center updated that projection to 422.2 feet. The river ultimately crested at 425.2 feet around 3:30 a.m., nearly 4 feet higher than forecast just six hours earlier, according to Erick Boehmler, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Norton, Mass.

A fire truck in Richmond responding to flooding overnight got stuck in a sinkhole, Town Manager Josh Arneson said. A crew was driving along Wes White Hill when the pavement gave way, causing at least one of the truck’s wheels to break through the blacktop, stranding the vehicle, he said. The truck was stuck for most of the day but will likely be repairable, Arneson said.
Paul with his vegetables at the Intervale in Burlington - RACHEL HELLMAN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Rachel Hellman ©️ Seven Days
  • Paul with his vegetables at the Intervale in Burlington
At Burlington’s Intervale, over 200 volunteers helped harvest produce ahead of potential flooding from the Winooski River. Gleaners traveled on bike from farm to farm, while trucks with beds full of vegetables headed to higher ground.

One man, who gave his name as Paul, walked down the puddled road clutching an armful of leafy greens he had salvaged from his garden. Some of his friends had shown up at 3 a.m. with flashlights to harvest their abundance of vegetables.

Mandy Fischer, director of programs for the Intervale, and Grace Oedel, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association — Vermont, headed up the road Thursday afternoon as more rain began to pour down.

“I’m so grateful for our strong community that keeps us safe in emergencies,” Oedel said. “But what we need are upstream, durable policies to address the climate emergency that we’re living in. We can’t be pretending like it’s going to go away. We were here last year.”

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