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August 30, 2011

Tropical Storm Irene Hits Vermont [VIDEO]

Like a true coward, I covered Tropical Storm Irene from the safety of my living room. I watched the WPTZ and WCAX news crews getting soaked to the bone reporting on the flooding and devastation across Vermont. 

I vigilantly monitored my Facebook feed all day/night on Sunday and saw shocking images that have since become iconic, the Bartonsville covered bridge collapsing (284,202 views on YouTube and counting) and a car being propelled down a river in Bennington (174,559 views and counting). 

Initially, some Vermonters felt the national media was not giving us much attention. After these striking images hit the internet, national articles began covering Vermont — from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, and all the way to the Daily Mail in England. We were the first story on Google News and VT flood videos were trending on YouTube.

Imagine if these brave photogs and videographers had not faced a deluge of wind and rain to capture these images? Would Vermont's flood be the current hot national news topic? I am very grateful to these fearless shooters who allowed me to include portions of their videos in this week's Stuck in Vermont.

Monday afternoon I ventured out of my house which was, thankfully, still standing. I live close to the Winooski River and all night it had been raging away, making me wonder if a late-night evacuation would be in order. 

The Winooski Falls area was packed on Monday. Many people appeared to have the day off and wanted to see the powerful river for themselves. As Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen noted, "You know, this is once in a lifetime for a lot of folks, this is the highest this river's been since the '27 flood so you know, hopefully we won't see it again for another hundred years."

I wasn't sure what sort of flood coverage I could provide in the midst of such a deluge of articles, photos and videos, but I grabbed my camera and my mother and we walked along the Winooski's swollen banks.  This is my neighborhood and I know every inch of it.

Downstream at the Intervale, farmers and volunteers spent the morning salvaging crops before the river flooded their fields. Lauren Ober was there in the wee hours and did this blog post about it.

I checked in with Charlie Auer of the Auer Family Boat House to see how the flooding was at the mouth of the Winooski River where it feeds into Lake Champlain. He said the water is high but not flooding the boat house as it did this spring (recorded in this Stuck in VT video). He expects it will take 4 to 5 days for all the water to empty into the river and make its way to the lake. 

It's hard to believe that one 90-mile long river can wind its way through our state capital, past downtown Winooski and our historic mill district, beyond our farm lands at the Intervale and empty out at Charlie's family boat house on Lake Champlain.

But that's Vermont — so many small streams, rivers and backroads connecting us and cutting paths through the wilderness. A state of scenic villages, bucolic farmland and covered bridges, so much more than just a picture postcard. And all of us tied together by the unique qualities that every Vermonter shares. We are patient, stubborn, resilient and brave. We don't go down without a fight.

And to prove it, all across Vermont, recovery and clean up is already underway. I heard this from dance teacher Tracy Martin in Waitsfield:

"Did you guys ever go to the Bridge St. market area in Waitsfield — the Green Cup, great thrift store, etc. etc.? One building got lifted off its foundations, slammed into another, then dominos, now the whole area is condemned! That's where I've been all day, cleaning mud and silt off coffee makers, silverware, out of freezers, window screens — uck!"

And Oliver Olsen from Jamaica VT made this video documenting crews building a road where a bridge was lost the day before, all in the span of one day.

Oliver also made this video of neighbors helping neighbors, with some help from an ATV:

"Here [is] another video along Pikes Falls Road and West Jamaica Road.  Complete[ly] cut off and inaccessible, with several bridges out and large segments of the road washed away.  We were delivering food and water to some folks who are stranded up there."

So hang in there Vermont. Especially those towns that are completely cut off from the state like Bennington, Cavendish, Chester, Granville, Killington, Mendon, Middletown Springs, Strafford, Stratton and Wilmington.

If we can survive the longest and the hardest winters known to man (and woman), then we can make it through this muck too.

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