Marking Of Historic Flood Rises From Irene Wreckage

When Tropical Storm Irene swept through the Northeast this summer, the flood decimated the small town of Wilmington, Vt. However, as cleaning crews went to work inside the Wilmington Baptist Church, they found a surprise: a painting marked by a blurry water line, at the height of the flood of 1938. Nancy Cohen from Vermont Public Radio reports.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A Baptist church in Wilmington, Vermont is holding its first service today since Tropical Storm Irene flooded the town in late August. The New England village is still recovering from the flood, but Nancy Cohen from Vermont Public Radio reports cleanup crews made a discovery in the church that's bringing a message of hope.

NANCY COHEN, BYLINE: On August 28th, the Deerfield River rose like an angry cobra, scooping up mud, rocks and ripping off the sides of buildings. The water rose nearly six feet in downtown Wilmington and even carried away two businesses. When the floodwaters receded, the river dropped its loot, leaving behind a mess downstairs in the Wilmington Baptist Church.

DOUG LAPLANTE: There's your water line. See it?

COHEN: Pastor Doug LaPlante is pointing to a line of debris on a window, a remnant of the mud left behind. The flood rocked the foundation of the white wooden church. And something key was destroyed.

LAPLANTE: This was where our baptismal was.

COHEN: The baptismal is where new church members were baptized.

LAPLANTE: This was a four-foot-deep pool. It was all galvanized. We called it the heart of the church.

COHEN: Cleanup crews ripped out the dented pool, along with the wall behind it. Behind that wall was a second wall. Behind it, a surprise.

LAPLANTE: What we ended up seeing was this beautiful mural. And as you look at this mural it was all painted on plaster of Paris.

COHEN: It was a picture of a snowy mountain scene hugged by evergreens. When the cleanup crew tried to saw around the painting, it crumbled, but not before LaPlante snapped a photograph. He points to a blurry line running across the top.

LAPLANTE: See this water level, this watermark? That watermark is not the water mark that one you see today on the windows.

COHEN: The watermark on the mural was about five inches lower than the one left behind by the recent flood. At about the height of the flood of 1938, caused by a hurricane. The discovery sent the pastor digging through church records. He didn't find anything about the painting, but there was a poem that could have been written today.

LAPLANTE: This was written in 1939, a year after flood. Piano gone and books galore and many things that are no more, but no discouraged sigh was heard but rather faith in God's own word that all things together work for good to those who love him as they should.

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COHEN: LaPlante says the poem is a reminder that Vermonters came together to rebuild Wilmington in 1938 as they are today. For NPR News, I'm Nancy Cohen.

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CORNISH: This is NPR News.

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