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Torrential rainstorm drowns Middlebury, high water and mudslides close area roads

THE QUICK AND plentiful rainfall on Thursday night resulted in water flowing downhill everywhere in Middlebury. Here water flows across Seymour Street near the Pulp Mill Bridge Friday morning destroying some property on its way down to fill a driveway before continuing on to Otter Creek. Photo by Christopher Ross

Police officer Ethan Jones waded into the flood pool under the railroad underpass near the intersection of Elm and Seymour streets, and smashed one of the car’s windows to free the driver.

MIDDLEBURY — Many Addison County residents on Friday morning were still bailing out basements, ordering gravel for washed-out driveways, dealing with dead cars and assessing other property damage caused by a massive Thursday evening rainstorm. The rains, which were said to have dumped a half-foot of rain in a short time, closed numerous roads and created some of the most intense flooding seen in our area since Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Middlebury is in the process of requesting a Governor’s Declaration of Emergency for Thursday’s storms, which spanned Aug. 3-4.

The deluge began in earnest at around 6 p.m. in Middlebury. The storms eventually dumped around six inches of rain in the shire town, which saw its municipal storm drainage system get overwhelmed. Floodwaters rolled over already-saturated soils and collected in gullies and other low-lying areas, making large swaths of Middlebury, Ripton, Bridport, Hancock, Salisbury and other communities impassable; some roads remained closed as of this writing in early afternoon.

“It was a storm that came in and parked right over us,” said Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley, who’s also the community’s emergency management officer.

The storms didn’t even spare the town’s first responders.

Rainwater permeated the Middlebury Police Department headquarters at 1 Lucius Shaw Lane, forcing officers and dispatchers to temporarily relocate. At one point, the water in the building was four inches deep.

“Our dispatchers were here last night with their pants rolled up, with bare feet,” Hanley said on Friday morning, adding the station’s community room “is a mess.”

Things had improved by Friday morning, with fans and heaters working overtime to dry things out. Police are now inspecting damage.

“We moved our dispatcher to the fire department,” Hanley said. “They’ve got a single rotary phone that she’s working with. Hopefully we won’t be getting a lot of calls tonight.”

Vermont State Police will take over Middlebury dispatching for the weekend.

THURSDAY NIGHT’S VIOLENT rainstorms flooded numerous buildings in Middlebury — including the town’s police headquarters at 1 Lucius Shaw Lane. Chief Tom Hanley said water was four inches deep, requiring dispatchers to take off their shoes and roll up their pants. Dispatchers temporarily been relocated to the Middlebury Fire Department HQ on Seymour Street.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

As of late Friday morning, the following Middlebury roads remained closed: Creek Road, Shard Villa Road, 3-Mile Bridge Road, Blake Roy Road, Painter Road (just past Werner Tree Farm), and Route 116 (between Cady Road & Quarry Road). By 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon the town had opened Shard Villa, 3-Mile Bridge and Blake Roy roads.

Elsewhere, Route 7 was partially closed in Ferrisburgh; Route 125 in Hancock was closed between Route 100 and Tucker Brook Road, due to a bridge abutment washout.

In Ripton, Route 125 was down to one lane of traffic in two spots due to a mudslide into the road — near the Middlebury town line and also between Maiden Lane and Frost Road.

As of this writing, Middlebury College officials were taking stock in flood damage to some of its campus buildings. Students through social media were reporting flooding at the Davis Family Library; the Axinn Center; and Weybridge, Sunderland and Allen halls.

On Friday afternoon the town of Middlebury announced a boil water order for some parts of town. Due to the need for system maintenance/repair including the culvert washout on Route 116 causing water main to collapse and break, residents north from Jehovah Witness Church on Route 116, Butternut Ridge, Mead Lane and Lindale Trailer Park are urged to boil water from their taps before consuming it. There is a strong possibility that your drinking water supply may become contaminated on the way to the faucet.

What should you do? Do not drink the water without boiling it first. Bring all water to a boil, let it boil for one minute, and let it cool before using, or use bottled water.

WATER POURING INTO BASEMENT

The rain was just starting to come down early Thursday evening when Cera Hurley was walking her two dogs around her yard at 83 Court St., across the street from the former Maverick service station and Middlebury Union High School.

She noted that tiny Barnes Brook near her house was beginning to pick up steam, to the extent it was overflowing onto her lawn.

“I decided to go into the basement to unplug my dehumidifier, so it doesn’t get ruined,” she recalled. “As I was doing that, the water broke through the bulkhead and started pouring into the basement.”

Hurley got even more nervous when the water crept up to within an inch of the electric circuit breaker box in her basement. She called Green Mountain Power and asked for her power to be shut off.

Water climbed past the breaker box and quickly overwhelmed her basement before making its way into the first floor of the abode, climbing the first three steps toward the second floor.

Meanwhile, outside, waves of pooling water had ripped off her front porch and had virtually covered both vehicles parked in Hurley’s driveway — hers, and that of her 16-year-old daughter.

A Middlebury resident assesses the damage to her driveway wrought by the six-inch rainfall that visited Addison County’s shire town Thursday evening.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

Mom, daughter and pups at first huddled inside a second-floor bedroom, but wisely gave in to Mother Nature. Hurley is grateful to a Middlebury friend, Beth Stanway, who had enough space to take in an extra family — as well as a stranded Lincoln resident — Thursday night.

“Someone else had told (Stanway) it was flooding in our area, and she checked on us. After waiting for the water to go down a little, she picked us up,” Hurley recounted.

At this point, Hurley unfortunately has no backup plan for housing. She’s arranged to have her basement pumped and will then assess the damage before launching a repair plan.

“We don’t have (functioning) cars or a place to stay. Most of my friends live over the mountain in Rochester (Vt.) and Stockbridge,” she said. “And some of those roads are closed off right now due to flooding and mudslides.”

RESCUED FROM A MINI-RESERVOIR

Chief Hanley said local police and firefighters received numerous reports of flooded basements and washed-out driveways Thursday evening. But emergency responders were in no position to help residents troubleshoot such problems; they were out doing rescues and welfare checks on folks known to be residing in flooded areas. Hanley said one of his officers, Ethan Jones, retrieved the driver of a vehicle that was almost submerged in a mini reservoir that had materialized underneath the rail overpass near the intersection of Elm and Seymour streets. Jones waded into the flood pool and smashed one of the car’s windows to free the driver, according to Hanley.

The massive water basin at Elm/Seymour temporarily cut off access to the also-flooded Marble Works complex and nearby rail platform. It was an otherworldly sight to those who witnessed it, but little evidence remained for the Friday morning commute.

Bill Kernan, director of Middlebury Public Works Operations, explained the unrelenting rainfall came in such a short span that it simply “overpowered” the town’s stormwater system.

“It was just a matter of once the rain stopped, the pipes were able to carry the water out and the (pooling water) receded,” he said.

Middlebury officials acknowledged the hardships created by Thursday’s storm, but noted the story could have been much worse.

“We’re lucky that the Otter Creek had at least receded to the point it had, once this (storm) hit,” Kernan said.

That comes as little consolation to folks in East Middlebury — particularly those residing near the Middlebury River. The Independent reported this past Thursday that property owners along East Main Street were still dealing with washouts, basement flooding, damage to homes and other fallout from last month’s storms.

Thursday’s rain event added insult to injury.

“We had more erosion on our side of the river,” resident Doug Anderson said. “The river easily got to the high level we’ve seen in recent weeks, if not higher. We slept last night to the sound of boulders crashing into each other, a sure sign that the river is raging at dangerous levels.”

A large section of Route 116 in Middlebury collapsed early Friday morning after water from a swollen Dow Pond near the former Polymers plastic plant flowed across the highway by 1 a.m. Hydraulic pressure from the water had enough pressure to “blow out the underside of the road,” according to a transportation official at the site. As of early afternoon Friday, the pond was still pouring a river under the roadway, which will delay the start of any repairs until the water level in the pond recedes back into its natural basin 30 or more yards away from the roadbed.
Independent photo/Angelo Lynn

The Independent’s reporting on Thursday also sized up Addison County’s chances for qualifying for FEMA’s Individual Assistance program, which would extend federal aid to property owners who’ve sustained flood damage to basements, homes, washed-out driveways and eroded lawns. This funding helps pay for disaster-caused expenses not covered by insurance or other sources.

Prior to Thursday, Addison County wasn’t among the nine Vermont counties that have OK’d Individual Assistance through FEMA. State and local officials have been urging residents to report their flood damage online through vermont211.org. Officials on Friday were still hammering home that message, though it remained clear whether Thursday’s flood damage would count toward Addison County’s meeting the threshold for FEMA aid to individuals.

Officials are hopeful for a new declaration from Scott, as chances seem low that Thursday’s event will be considered a part of the July rain events that FEMA has been inspecting.

“I don’t think so, because this was an isolated event,” Hanley said of linking the two disasters. “It wasn’t a part of the major storms of July. I don’t know if they would link this in as part of the same storm, but I don’t think they will.”

Maranda Aunchman posted a video on Facebook that showed water rising high underneath the railroad overpass on Seymour Street in Middlebury on Thursday evening. By Friday morning the water there was gone.

The same question was asked of Jason Maulucci, Gov. Phil Scott’s spokesman.

“It’s unclear when FEMA will declare the end of the incident period of the original storms,” he said, echoing Hanley’s concern. “For example, a more typical disaster, like a hurricane or earthquake, has a clear start and end date of usually just a day or two. Damage is only covered for that period. This is a bit different, and we have not been officially notified when the end of our incident period will be.”

Please report your damage to vermont211.org, call 2-1-1, or 802-652-4636.

See more photos from our community members on the Addison Independent Facebook page.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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