Vermont Resorts Worry Irene Damaged Ski Season

fromVPR

Towns in southern Vermont's Deerfield Valley are slowly getting reconnected with the outside world as road crews repair highways ravaged by Irene. But the resort communities face a harder time re-building their tourism-based businesses. They're worried about getting back on their feet in time for the fall foliage season and upcoming ski season.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

President Obama will travel to New Jersey on Sunday to see damage caused by Hurricane Irene. He will visit Paterson, a city where flooding is still a major problem. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made it there yesterday. This is an old manufacturing city spread out along the Passaic River, and this morning all five bridges over that river are still underwater and may be for days.

The flooding has struck valleys from New Jersey up to Vermont, where torn up highways left some towns disconnected from the outside world. Road crews have been working to fix that this week. Some of these towns are resort communities and residents wonder if they'll be back in business in time for the fall, when people come to see the leaves and the winter, when people come to ski. John Dillon reports from Vermont Public Radio.

(Soundbite of vehicle engine)

JOHN DILLON: A National Guard Humvee bounced over a rutted road on its way to Wardsboro, a town of about 800 in southern Vermont.

Unidentified Man: Take a left and scoot right around the shoulder (unintelligible).

DILLON: The town has been cut off since Sunday, when floodwaters unleashed by Tropical Storm Irene washed away roads and bridges. So people at the West Wardsboro Country Store were relieved when the Guard showed up towing a trailer of bottled water.

Unidentified Woman #1: Water.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #2: Well, I've never seen this before.

Unidentified Woman #3: Boy, nice job, guys.

DILLON: As a generator thrummed in the background, the Guard quickly distributed the cases of water. George Ellis lives above the store.

Mr. GEORGE ELLIS: And you know, it's hard to believe that water's what caused all this and that's the one thing we need.

DILLON: Wardsboro, like other towns in the Deerfield Valley, is slowly cleaning up from the mess left by Irene. Damage estimates for the entire state are still coming in, but officials say the total will be in the tens of millions of dollars. And officials say that the dozen towns that had been cut off are now at least accessible by emergency crews in specialized vehicles.

But the economy here in southern Vermont - based on tourism and ski resorts -will take much longer to recover.

Ms. NICKI STEEL: The village will never be the same village. I mean, there isn't one business in the downtown area that didn't have four to six feet of water running through it.

DILLON: Nicki Steel lives in Wilmington, a town just south of Wardsboro. It's the commercial heart of the Deerfield Valley, home to Mount Snow and other ski areas. The storm wiped out businesses and disabled the town sewer and water system. Now its aftermath has threatened many people's livelihoods. Ann Coleman owns an art gallery in town. She had almost finished restoring her building when the raging Deerfield River picked it up off its foundation and swept it two miles downstream.

Ms. ANN COLEMAN: It looked so beautiful and we were so close to being done. So that's a heartbreak. This town needs so much help to get back where it needs to be and it's going to be a long haul.

DILLON: Coleman plans to rebuild. She says she can't give up on Wilmington and the Deerfield Valley. And that was the message all over southern Vermont.

Ms. LAURA SIBILIA (Executive Director, Local Chamber of Commerce): The area is going to recover. It's going to recover.

DILLON: Laura Sibilia is executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce. She says the tourists who come to see the foliage will visit in just a couple of weeks.

Ms. SIBILIA: We have been very clear, and I think the message is being heard that ski season's going to be on. And we're going to, you know, get as much foliage in here as we can. You know, the next couple of weeks, in terms of getting our major routes, you know, open, are, you know, that's going to be critical.

DILLON: The challenges are huge. Many businesses clearly won't be open by the time the leaves turn color.

For NPR News, I'm John Dillon in the Deerfield Valley, Vermont.

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