Flooding Takes A Personal Toll

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(Host) The flooding that began overnight has damaged roads and businesses – and forced more than 170 people to seek emergency shelter in Barre and Montpelier.

VPR’s John Dillon has this look at the personal toll of the flood:

(Dillon) Around 9:00 p.m. Thursday the thunderstorms parked over central Vermont created a series of rivers in downtown Barre. The Good Samaritan Homeless Shelter was caught between two of the torrents.

Adam Rice is a shelter resident.

(Rice) "The way the shelter is positioned we’re in between kind of a rock and a hardspot but it’s two liquid rocks. We had a river on each side of us, and the level kept on continuing to get higher and higher and they evacuated us to the Barre Auditorium last night." 

(Dillon) Already homeless, Rice found himself seeking shelter with about 120 other central Vermonters.

(Firetruck radio: "engineer responding.")

(Dillon) At the auditorium, emergency crews were dispatched to check on flood damage throughout the city. A big concern was the structural integrity of buildings damaged by high water.

Christina Donald spent the night at the shelter. She doesn’t know if she and her family can go back to their place at the Vermonter Hotel on the Barre-Montpelier Road.

(Donald) "That’s what we’re trying to do is find the way to get back to our room, get back to our houses to see what’s left, what do we have. Do we have even vehicles sitting there? Because the road was gone, we couldn’t take our vehicles. We have no idea, and there’s no road to get there."

(Dillon) As the flood waters rose, Donald’s 14 year old son Joe and his friend Jonathan Amell hustled to get residents out of their building. With a Red Cross blanket wrapped around his shoulders, Joe tells how they moved people out within five minutes.

(Joe Donald) "Me and him decided that the water was coming over and we thought that maybe if we were in this situation someone would have done this for us. So we decided to go downstairs and help evacuate all the buildings. So that’s what we did and I think everyone was grateful that we did it."

(Dillon) In the midst of catastrophe, people witness small and large acts of altruism. Pam Wilder spent the night at the shelter. She wants to thank the school bus driver who drove them to safety.

(Wilder) "She just maneuvered around the streets and through that water like it was nothing, like she was out on a Sunday drive. But she was our hero last night. And when we got here everyone on the bus just clapped their hands because we were so happy and proud of her."

(Dillon) Wilder doesn’t know if she can go back to her place along the Stevens Branch of the Winooski River. She may be staying in the Red Cross shelter for another night. But right now she just wants a change of clothes.

(Wilder) "As we were walking through the water to try to help people, not only are you smelling diesel but you’re walking in raw sewerage to try to get people out. We’re all wishing there was a hot shower!"

(Pumping water)

(Dillon) Up the road in Montpelier, about 50 people also were forced to evacuate to a Red Cross shelter. Property damage was extensive. At Onion River Sports, a sump pump emptied the flooded basement. Owner Andrew Brewer said he lost a great deal of inventory.

(Brewer) There’ll be tens of thousands of dollars in property loss. We’re down to the point where we’re just trying to remove anything dry….I bet you there’s still 30 bikes down there. We’re just leaving them. Nothing we can do right now. They’re just totally underwater.

(Dillon) Brewer had been at his store since the early morning hours.

He was soon joined by many friends and customers. They splashed down a flooded stairwell to empty the basement storage space.

(Brewer) "This community rocks. There’s dozens and dozens of people down here helping us out, wading around in downstairs. It’s terrific."

(Dillon) 19 years ago, Brewer’s store was flooded when an ice jam sent the Winooski River flooding through downtown Montpelier. Today, he and other central Vermonters hope the rain holds off so the region can dry out.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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