Washed Out Roads, Bridges Trap Vermonters

Hurricane Irene destroyed roads and washed out bridges all over Vermont. A week later,a drive across the state takes a whole lot of detouring. Vermonters are worried about how they'll ever rebuild.

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SCOTT SIMON, host: Over the border in Vermont, it's still hard to get around because of flooding from Irene. More than 500 miles of roads and at least two dozen bridges are out. Earlier this week, reporter Nancy Cohen took a road trip in the southern part of the state, one of the places that was hardest hit.

NANCY COHEN: On route 112 in Halifax, a stretch of road is missing. The asphalt has caved into the North River. A guardrail is under water. But despite the conditions, Brianna Inman is forging north to Whitingham.

BRIANNA INMAN: This is my first time attempting to go back home. We're lucky we live on top of the mountain, but going down, there's a brook that goes down so everything is washed out right there.

COHEN: A lot of roads are washed out. The ones that run east-west, below the mountains, are like catch basins, taking the brunt of Irene. But some people know how to find their way, like UPS driver Mark Washkevich. He's buying a cold drink inside the Jacksonville General Store.

MARK WASHKEVICH: I came in through Jacksonville Stage - over the Green River covered bridge.

COHEN: I ask him if he thinks I can make it to South Newfane, which is in tough shape, northeast of here.

WASHKEVICH: You are not going to make it.

COHEN: So how should I go? From Route 9, you think?

WASHKEVICH: There's not a lot of Route 9 anymore.

COHEN: I decide to take my chances. Route 9 is a major east-west road. There's got to be a way through. I just passed a sign that says Road Closed on the opposite lane, but it doesn't seem to be closed on my side, so I'm going to keep going, see what happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

COHEN: Eventually, I come to a spot where Route 9 turns to dirt. Chunks of road, white lines and all, sit on the bottom of Whetstone Brook. Edward Gilbert, who's operating an excavator, is digging them up.

EDWARD GILBERT: We're trying to put the road back is what it is. You know, it's in the river so it takes a long process.

COHEN: Long because it's hard to get materials, like gravel or stone.

GILBERT: We can't get it out of Brattleboro because the roads are washed out and the trucks are coming so far away that it's just one every two hours. So, slow process.

COHEN: You can't get any further east here so I turn around and head west. Lisa Hecht, the Emergency Management Director for the Town of Marlboro takes me north on Augur Hole Road where a group of men are restoring the first in a series of bridges that have washed away.

LISA HECHT, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIRECTOR: We have to fix this to get to the next one. And then you fix the next one to get to the next one. And it goes all the way like that all the way to South Newfane.

COHEN: People have been stuck between the washed out bridges. Some have hiked, biked or driven all-terrain vehicles through the woods to get out. Farmer Dave Matt points to where this bridge floated downstream.

DAVE MATT: You can see it's like a 10-foot drop down to the brook. We had to pull it out of the brook and it took the excavator, the town's pay-loader and my skidder to get it up out of here.

COHEN: Matt and many of the others here are neighbors who are pitching in. Like 71-year-old Gordon Turner who lives between this bridge and a second one that's out. All that's left there is a 40-foot deep hole

GORDON TURNER: Haven't been able to get out now since Sunday.

COHEN: But he says it hasn't bothered him.

TURNER: Plenty of water. I got an electric generator, lights, two-freezers full. We stay prepared up here.

COHEN: Prepared and determined. These neighbors managed to get a truckload of gravel, something that's as good as gold in these parts. Now this bridge is open. But there are dozens of other bridges in Vermont that are still closed. For NPR News, I'm Nancy Cohen.

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