Vermont Reels In Irene's Wake

Roads and bridges are out in Wilmington, Vt., in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Melissa Block talks with Fred Ventresco, town manager of Wilmington, for more.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. Across Vermont and upstate New York, hundreds of roads remain closed, washed out by tropical storm Irene. Massive floods rampaged through dozens of towns and the scale of destruction is becoming painfully clear. The National Guard has been airlifting food, water and emergency supplies into communities whose roads remain impassible.

BLOCK: One of those towns is Wilmington in southern Vermont, not far from the Massachusetts border. The flood swamped the town offices, so they're now operating out of a local high school. Fred Ventresco is town manager. He says the Deerfield River that runs through town became a raging torrent on Sunday.

FRED VENTRESCO: The amazing thing was, it was just so rapid of how the water just rose. It's like it started really pouring rain at about 9:00, 10:00 a.m. By 10:00, one of our bridges was flooded out and we were evacuating the town office. And I was one of the last ones that actually left the town office building which happens to be right next - about an intersection away from the water. And the brown water was hitting my feet as I ran out the door.

BLOCK: Describe just what the destruction is from the flooding.

VENTRESCO: Oh, it's amazing. Houses just pulled right off the foundations, roofs in the middle of the road, propane tanks everywhere, you know, foundations and pieces of road that it just, you know, slid from one side of the road to the other. One whole house just got pushed away and our sewer pump station pretty much got pushed off its whole foundation, pushed back, you know, 60, 70 feet.

BLOCK: What about Main Street? What's left?

VENTRESCO: That is Main Street.

BLOCK: That is Main Street?

VENTRESCO: That's part of Main Street. Unfortunately, that's the heart of the town where all of our, you know, banks, book shops, chamber of commerce, all of our real businesses are. So it really hit right at the heart, literally, of the community.

BLOCK: Mr. Ventresco, I know there are hundreds of roads in Vermont that are closed because of the flooding, they've washed out. What about where you are?

VENTRESCO: Absolutely. We are - I tell you, Sunday night, one of the things that really hit me the most, because I've never experienced such a thing, is we were really on an island here. The north of us, the road was out. And east and west, the roads were out. And behind us the other way, south, really just goes into town to a dead end sort of area. Really, we were trapped by water. There was just - there's no exaggeration to that.

BLOCK: And what about now? Are those roads impassable or can people get in and out?

VENTRESCO: Obviously, travel's a lot better than it was, but one of the major concerns we have is we have a lot of services in town. But we rely on slightly bigger communities, which are Bennington to the west, and Brattleboro, 20 miles to the east. We can't get to either of those cities right now.

BLOCK: Because the roads are gone?

VENTRESCO: The roads, they're impassible in sections. There are certain areas, if you've got a 4-wheel drive huge vehicle, you may be able to make it down. But parts of the road have totally collapsed, so that's why, for example, they have blocked, you know, us leaving the town in either direction because you may get a distance and think you're getting somewhere or get, you know, for example, eight miles and you're gonna have to turn around. And, of course, getting people to hospitals is a major, major concern.

BLOCK: What are you doing about that? Can helicopters come in?

VENTRESCO: Well, we do have what I'd call the circuitous route to get to one hospital, which has been good. But it's a very small hospital and doesn't have a lot of, you know, major - someone needs some major medical attention, they probably would have to be airlifted out.

BLOCK: And have you had to do that yet?

VENTRESCO: We haven't had to airlift yet, but we have had expectant mothers and a few other people that did have to - we had escort the ambulance. And the thing that's really bad is it's a slow travel.

BLOCK: Mr. Ventresco, when you think about bringing your town back, bringing Wilmington back, what does that look like to you?

VENTRESCO: It's gonna be a big job, very big. The town fire department, it's flooded out. The town office building is and the town office building also houses the town police department. So right now, the town infrastructure we are, for the most part, nonfunctional. We can't operate this way for long.

BLOCK: How are people holding up?

VENTRESCO: One good thing about the area is that everyone has been willing to chip in. It's a great area for that. The business owners, the residents, even when they have devastation themselves and, obviously, are thinking, I'm sure, about their personal problems, they've - you know, they're here and they're helping others. And that's really good to see.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Ventresco, we wish you all the best. Thanks.

VENTRESCO: Well, thank you very much.

BLOCK: That's Fred Ventresco. He's town manager of Wilmington, Vermont, one of many towns reeling from the effects of Irene.

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