Washed Out Bridges Strand Vermont's Small Towns

fromVPR

Vermont became an unexpected casualty of Hurricane Irene. The storm dropped up to seven inches of rain Sunday — flooding streams and sending rivers crashing over their banks. In the state highway system alone, 12 bridges were washed out.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

One place that is certainly not out of the woods is Vermont. That state remains waterlogged this morning. Flooding has washed away portions of major roadways and bridges. That includes several of Vermont's historic covered bridges. People in some of Vermont's small towns have been virtually cut off. Vermont's governor has declared a state of emergency. For more on the situation there, we've turned to reporter Ross Sneyd from Vermont Public Radio.

Good morning, Ross.

ROSS SNEYD: Good morning, David.

GREENE: You know, I don't think people were expecting Vermont to be hit that hard. We were getting, you know, all the warnings about North Carolina, New York City. How did this storm become such a force and a monster so far inland?

SNEYD: I think a lot of people in Vermont were not expecting to be hit quite so hard as well. But what happened was not the winds, because they had died down quite a lot by the time the storm got here, but it was the rain. Four to seven inches imagine that in a very short period of time. And it the way -Vermont's topography, I think, contributed to this. We're a mountainous state here, and the water runs very quickly down those steep hills and steep slopes, and then into these fairly narrow streams and rivers and then just gushes, and really the some of the city and town streets became riverbeds.

GREENE: Wow. What have you been seeing? What are some of the scenes in these places where it sounds like rivers have just, you know, poured right into communities?

SNEYD: Well, what we're seeing now is mud, frankly. It's most of the water has receded from a lot of these places. There's still water in some of the northern areas. But now that the water has receded, it's all of this muck and mud and there's a huge clean-up job ahead.

There was somebody in Waterbury who said he got to his auto repair business this morning to find the cars that he had repaired last week are just now filled with mud.

GREENE: Wow. Sounds like quite a mess. What about emergency crews? I mean have they been able to reach people and help where they've been needed? Or have they been really cut off by these raging rivers?

SNEYD: Well, it was very difficult at the height of the flooding because some of these communities were literally cut off. There was one town in Southern Vermont Wilmington - that became essentially an island because it was surrounded by floodwaters and some of these emergency crews simply couldn't get there.

Now that we have daylight, the emergency crews are heading out. There were 23 shelters opened around the state overnight and hundreds of people who were housed in them. And now these people are beginning to head out and try to find out what they have left.

But state officials are very concerned about people going out on the roads because there are more than 200 state roads that have some kind of damage to them.

GREENE: So the message from the government is basically stay in, don't try to venture out, don't go to work?

SNEYD: That's exactly it. In fact, state government itself has now closed down. The state government will be closed at least until tomorrow, except for essential services such as the VTrans workers, the transportation folks, the state police, the emergency management people. Even the emergency operations center operated by the state in Waterbury was flooded yesterday and they had had to evacuate that building and move it to Burlington, where there was a FEMA office already set up from floods that we had this spring.

GREENE: You know, Russ, we talk about a place like New York City, where the mayor shut down the entire subway system in preparation for this storm. In Vermont, I mean weren't people bracing? Were they being warned that this might happen or totally caught off guard.

SNEYD: Well, there was warning that we would have flash flooding. I think what people what caught a lot of people off-guard was the magnitude of it. The storm did track a little bit farther west than had been anticipated. There's some belief that perhaps that contributed to the kind of flooding that we had. That's kind of, I guess, a parlor game at this point because the flooding certainly happened.

I think that the state was prepared. They had emergency crews stationed in various places throughout the state. But it turns out that, as I said, they couldn't necessarily get to the places they needed to go, and sometimes they also couldn't get the transportation crews where they needed to be, because they would be positioned in a place that was washed out on either side, and they became trapped.

GREENE: We'll be following this story very closely. It sounds like it's going to be a very muddy clean-up in Vermont. That's reporters Ross Sneyd from Vermont Public Radio. Thanks for joining us, Ross.

SNEYD: You're welcome.

GREENE: And you are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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