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August 30, 2011

Surveying Irene's Destructive Path in the Mad River Valley and Beyond

14a_proud_flower Merely 15 minutes from Burlington, Irene's legacy is mud and dust, buzzing generators and pumps, chairs and rugs and the entire contents of houses left on front lawns to dry.

In Richmond and Waterbury, Waitsfield and Moretown, you can tell where the filthy waters travelled by the grey-brown crust that coats porches, flowers, cars, and walls. Entire fields of corn lay spent, the filthy water rendering them inedible.

10_alchem_inside In Richmond, the Winooski River spilled throughout downtown, claiming 15 pigs and all of the crops and hay at Jericho Settler's Farm, ruining the entire garden at On The Rise bakery in Richmond and of course, spilling through houses. When the same river poured into downtown Waterbury on Sunday night, it filled the basement of The Alchemist Pub & Brewery, tossing around kegs and bags of grain as if someone picked up the room, shook it and threw it back down. It also rose onto the main floor to waist-level before pulling back Monday morning. Later that day, some of the pub's 22 employees were scrubbing and pushing out mud, and co-owner Jen Kimmich seemed beside herself.
"They're here cleaning, and I don't have anyway to pay them," she said of her workers, overcome. Once she regained her composure, she said it would be easy to gut the building and sell it, but that was something they likely wouldn't, and couldn't, do.

12_juniper_fare Down South Main Street, past the houses with their entire contents spilled out on the lawn to dry, staff had carried most of the tables, chairs and kitchen equipment into the parking lot of Juniper's Fare Café, which is tied to the Community of the Crucified One church in Moretown. Chef Martin Smith said he and others had spent much of the day pushing out muck, though broken cookers and fridges remained in the slippery kitchen. "We learned that it rains on both the just and the unjust," said Smith, offering a cookie from one of several dozen that survived the flood. They planned to rebuild, too, but how long that would take was murky.

13_artisan_tea Nearby, the parking lot of Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co. was filled with enormous piles of coffee bean sacks, coolers and office equipment. All of the coffee was a loss, and because the power was not yet on again in Waterbury, Holly Alvés said she and her family and staff didn't yet know if their roasters, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, still worked. She looked grimly at their wiring, which was below the flood level. "At least we moved our offices up to the second floor recently," she said, so the computers were spared. Like her neighbors, she and her husband Mane would somehow figure it out. 

Cider Less sure was James Dodson of Cider House Barbecue & Pub north of town. "Hi, we used to own a place called the Cider House," quipped Dodson as a visitor walked into the dim, slippery, musty space. His co-owner, Tom Sullivan, lives next door. "It was a hit to lose both my house and restaurant at once," he added. 

It takes longer to get from Waterbury to Moretown now, mostly because the village was quasi-isolated when portions of several roads and bridges into the village washed out on Sunday night when the Mad River raged through town. On Tuesday, it felt like its own busy, sad universe, with the lawn of nearly every single home in the village covered in clothes, muddy couches, torn-out siding and carpet. 

Near the bridge that's out on the south end of town, Dan and Sherry Bromberg own a home perched high above the river, and watched anxiously as the roiling waters licked at their back deck. It never came higher, thankfully, but bales of hay and hundreds of pumpkins spilled past their windows and swept away most of their gardens and raised beds.

Moretown Down the road closer to town, the Fulton house was not so lucky. It took only three hours of chest-high flood waters to waterlog and cover everything inside in mud. Matthew Holland's grandmother and mother live here, and he noted wearily that the house — which has been in the family since 1882 — had survived the flood of 1927, so it would probably survive this one. "They had to rescue a great-great-great aunt from an upstairs window then," said Holland, who works as a firefighter in the village.

His family was safe this time, too, though much of the family's belongings were on the back porch, drying in the sun. Inside, the stench of putrid mud was heavy in the rooms, and smears of it covered everything, from the stove and floors to books, antique dressers and decades of family memorabilia, including letters that Holland's great grandfather wrote during his time as a POW in World War I. Holland's sister found the soggy letters and laid them out on a bed to dry. 





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