On Friday afternoon, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas of New York City, I sent an email to a bunch of friends saying, basically, "If you want to clear out of the city you're welcome to ride out the storm up here in Vermont."
It's not that I thought the Green Mountain State would be unscathed. While plenty of mainstream media outlets and weather prognosticators (cough cough) were focusing narrowly on coastal wind speeds and storm surge, the experts that I rely on -- namely Jeff Masters at Weather Underground and Andrew Freedman of Climate Central and the Capital Weather Gang (and an occasional OnEarth contributor) -- were warning that inland flooding from massive rains was the biggest and most underanticipated threat.
We knew that Vermont was going to get slammed by rain, and that our ground was already saturated from record precipation all summer. We knew that there would be flooding. I just figured that Vermont would be safer than, say, a city of eight million people that sat directly in the storm's path.
Unfortunately, Vermont got hit harder than our worst fears. As of this writing, there have been two deaths officially reported in the state, there are two men missing in Rutland (the "big" city nearest my home), and according to Vermont Public Radio, "nearly every major highway in the state has been damaged."Update: Sadly, three people have been reported dead, and a fourth is still missing.
A state government complex in Waterbury flooded severely and is closed indefinitely.
The numbers never really tell the story, though, so here are some of the photos and videos I can't stop looking at as I try to comprehend the damage my state has suffered from Irene. And I certainly don't mean to dismiss the misery anywhere else -- especially our neighbors across the border in upstate New York and the Adirondacks, where the impacts have been every bit as devastating. But I live here, and this is what I woke up to this morning. (Click on any image for a larger version or for the original.)
First of all, here's a map of the current road closures in the state.
Click on the map for the current updated version.
The 140-year old Bartonsville Covered Bridge in Rockingham, washed away yesterday.
(Many commenters on Youtube and Twitter are dismissing the loss of a bridge with a "big deal" attitude. It's true, there were no casualties as a result of bridge failures. But these covered bridges are a big part of Vermont's culture and heritage -- as much as maple syrup and skiing. For a community to lose a bridge that's over a century old is losing a piece of its history. The impact on the community's psyche can't be overstated.)
Here's Route 7, just south of Rutland in Wallingford (and about exactly 10 miles east of where I now sit.) Route 7 is the most trafficked non-interstate highway in Vermont, and this is a severe blow to local mobility.
And this is Route 4, just east of Rutland, on the way up to the popular ski resort town of Killington. It's a very well-trafficked road, and an essential artery for working Vermonters and the tourism industry alike. (It also happens to be the road that my fiancee drives to work, and we have no idea what she's going to do in the meantime.)
Photo courtesy of Central Vermont Public Service
Speaking of Killington, a reader of the Rutland Herald sent in this photo of the baselodge. Killington is one of the most popular ski resorts in the East, and this is the main lodge.
The town of Killington has been described as being "an island" today, and local residents are totally cut off from all supplies and services.
There have been reports that the Quechee covered bridge survived the night, but others have said that it's washed out. Last I heard from "someone who knows someone" in town is that "one-third of the bridge" survived. If you know the town at all (maybe you've visted Simon Pierce?), you know what a landmark it is. Here's what it looked like yesterday.
Update: Here's "what's left of the bridge" today.
Here's Route 4 across the state in Woodstock. The Woodstock Farmers Market is a staple of the community, and anyone who has ever been here can tell from the photo that water is at least 5 feet deep. The town of Woodstock is also a big tourist destination. Nearby, the famous Woodstock Inn is flooded, and they're closing down and sending guests home.
Down in Bennington, the Roaring Branch was more than living up to its name. It took out a number of structures, and swept this car downstream.
Here's downtown Ludlow, home of the popular Okemo Ski Resort. The road was impassable, and Wicked Good Pizza (which anyone who has ever been to the town undoubtably knows) is underwater. Just down the road in Mount Holly, there was a successful water rescue yesterday afternoon.
While few regions were spared in the storm, it seems like the Southeastern part of the state might've suffered the worst. This panorama of downtown Brattleboro is downright shocking. The Brattleboro Reformer put together a moving slideshow of images from throughout Windham County, in Southeastern Vermont. I'll wrap up the post with this one.
If you have any other images or videos that you'd like me to include, post links in the comment section, or tag them on Flickr, YouTube, or Twitter with "onearthVT."
If there's any lesson to take away from the devastation in Vermont, it's that these "one-in-100 years rains" seem to be happening with increasing frequency, and that urban and rural areas alike need to take steps to be better prepared. Climate adaptation is an advanced and respected discipline in much of the developed world, but here in the United States, it hasn't yet been taken very seriously. If extreme weather events really are becoming the "new normal," then we have a ways to go to prepare and build better resiliency into our communities and our infrastructure.
Ben writes about climate, energy, and sustainability for numerous publications and is the former environment editor at GOOD. He's the author of "The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City" and currently lives in Vermont. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has...Ben writes about climate, energy, and sustainability for numerous publications and is the former environment editor at GOOD. He's the author of "The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City" and currently lives in Vermont. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.MoreClose
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