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Flooding returns, but effects aren’t so bad

VERMONT — Heavy rain and melting snow inundated much of Vermont on Monday, leading to swift-water rescues, evacuations, road closures and early school dismissals, including in Addison Central School District. As some rivers crested and others continued to rise Monday evening, state officials urged Vermonters to exercise caution and remain vigilant.

At a press conference late Monday afternoon in Berlin, Gov. Phil Scott noted that the storm had come just months after floods devastated the state in July.

“As we continue the recovery from this summer’s flooding, I know this is the last thing Vermonters want to see right now — and especially during the holiday season,” he said, speaking from the Agency of Transportation’s Dill Building.

The governor said he did not expect damage from the latest storm to rival this summer’s. “That being said, some of the places that were impacted in July are currently experiencing flooding once again,” he said. “So for them, this is July — and it’s a real gut punch.”

For Addison County residents — particularly those in Middlebury (which saw more than two and a half inches of rain on Monday), Ripton, Salisbury and Cornwall — it seemed like a repeat not of July, but of the Aug. 3 and 4 flooding. Water was baled from basements, real estate was shored up against rising rivers and brooks in addition to flooding on newly created streams. 

The town of Middlebury temporarily closed several roads due to rising waters:

• Shard Villa & 3 Mile Bridge Road, from Route 7 to Halladay Road.

• 3 Mile Bridge Rd on Shard Villa to the Middlebury/Salisbury town line.

• All of the Middlebury portion of Blake Roy Road on the southern edge of the town.

• Exchange Street from the Cabot/Agri-Mark plant to Mainelli Avenue.

Meanwhile, ACSD Director of Operations Matt Corrente issued an email to the school community at 1:33 p.m. stating, “in response to severe weather and flooding roads, we are closing schools early at 2 p.m. If you can pick up your child at school you may do so at any time, beginning now. If you have a child in preK-8th grade and your child rides the bus or walks home, we must speak to a parent before sending your child on the bus or letting them walk home. The buses will pick up elementary students at 2 p.m. and then go to the secondary schools. They will follow their normal routes home.”

IT WAS WORSE ELSEWHERE

As of 5 p.m., the storm had led to at least three rescue operations throughout the state, according to Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison. Three people were pulled from a house in Jamaica around 1 p.m. One person was rescued from a vehicle swept away by floodwaters in Waterbury. And one other rescue operation was taking place at that hour in an unspecified location, Morrison said during remarks at the governor’s press conference.

No serious injuries or deaths have been reported.

Throughout the day, local officials scrambled to respond to a storm that, while widely anticipated, quickly grew more severe than expected. As the Mad River raged Monday morning, the nearby Moretown Elementary School flooded, prompting district officials to send students home early. Later that day, residents of Moretown village were told to evacuate.

The cities of Barre and Montpelier, both hit hard during July’s flooding, prepared for more — closing streets and parking lots and distributing sandbags to residents and business owners. Around the state, dozens of schools closed early. The American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at the Barre Auditorium.

A DECEMBER STORM

By Monday night, as heavy rain moved out of the state, much of Vermont had received 2 to 2.5 inches, according to Jessica Neiles, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington.

Among the towns that saw the greatest rainfall totals, according to preliminary local observation reports provided to the weather service, were Johnson (3.3 inches), Quechee (2.9 inches), Waitsfield (2.8 inches), Middlebury (2.6 inches) and Milton (2.5 inches).

The heavy rainfall was exacerbated by a number of factors, Neiles said: high temperatures, an abundance of fresh snow and frozen ground that could not absorb runoff. “Rainfall on top of snowpack is usually not a good thing,” she said.

The National Weather Service charted a record high temperature in Montpelier of 58 degrees Fahrenheit, Neiles said, besting the previous record of 46 degrees set in 1949.

Rivers throughout the state flooded Monday, but none ran as high as the Mad River. It crested in Moretown just above major flood stage at 13.02 feet around 7:45 p.m., according to the weather service. That was up from about 3.4 feet the day prior.

At least two other rivers reached moderate flood stage: the Winooski and the Lamoille.

The Winooski crested in Montpelier at 16.15 feet around 6:30 p.m., according to the weather service. By comparison, the river reached 21.35 feet in July when much of the capital’s downtown was flooded. The Winooski crested in Waterbury at 7:30 p.m. but was still rising downstream in Essex as of 8:30 p.m.

The Lamoille River was also continuing to rise as of 8:30 p.m. and, in Johnson, was nearing major flood stage at 15.82 inches.

Neiles said that even as the rain subsided, the state faced more challenges Tuesday: some snowfall and, as temperatures drop, icy roads.

STATE RESPONSE

Asked at his press conference Monday afternoon whether the state had been caught off guard by the extent of the storm, Gov. Scott said emergency response officials were always prepared.

“But it hit me by surprise,” he said. “I knew there was going to be an increased, elevated amount of rain today — and the snow melt we knew was going to be a problem — but we didn’t expect this elevation to the amount of water that we’re seeing right now.”

The State Emergency Operations Center was activated Monday morning. Mike Cannon, the state’s urban search and rescue program coordinator, said at the governor’s press conference that five swift-water rescue teams were in the field, with another five on standby. The state’s 90-member urban search and rescue team, which includes two additional swift-water rescue teams, had also been deployed, Cannon said.

The Vermont National Guard had provided the state with high-water vehicles to assist with rescues, according to Morrison, the public safety commissioner.

Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn said at the press conference that, as of 5 p.m., 15 state roads were fully closed and 34 were partially closed. His office had heard from 10 municipalities experiencing problems with local roads.

Locally, as of Wednesday morning Route 73 from Hollow Road in Brandon to Willowbrook Road in Sudbury was closed to all traffic due to high water. 

According to Flynn, Amtrak had suspended operations in Vermont, though he said he was not aware of any damage to rail lines. Cape Air also suspended flights to Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport, he said.

Secretary of Natural Resources Julie Moore said at the press conference that state water-control facilities along the Winooski River and its tributaries — including the Waterbury Dam, Wrightsville Dam and East Barre Dam — were experiencing high levels of water but had room for more.

Morrison urged Vermonters to act cautiously.

“Tonight our top priority will be keeping people safe and evacuating or rescuing those who are in danger,” she said on Monday. “Stay. Out. Of. Flood. Waters. The water is too cold, it’s filled with pollutants that are unhealthy, and the currents are unpredictable.”

Morrison also acknowledged that, “for many people this weather event is likely to cause anxiety, fear and some flashbacks to July’s devastating floods. I will admit to feeling a bit of these emotions myself.”

But, she said, “We are hopeful and there are indications that this weather event will not be as severe as July’s floods.”

Among the dozen or so districts that announced early dismissals were Harwood Unified Union School District, schools in Montpelier and Barre and in various parts of Windham, Caledonia, Lamoille, Orange and Windsor counties — as well as Addison Central School District.

The town of Middlebury reported one water main break, and three of its wastewater stations were overwhelmed at several points by the flooding, according to Emmalee Cherington, director of public works and planning. After the town closed several roads Monday, most had reopened by Tuesday afternoon except for some sections along the river.

“We are in good shape comparatively,” she said. “We are not aware of any major flood damages.”

Still, having two major floods in a year has been eye-opening for town officials. They were in the process of filing flood damage estimates to the Federal Emergency Management Agency from when the town was swamped in August, about a month after the state’s first deluge of the summer. Monday’s event “added frustration on top of that,” Cherington said.

Addison Independent reporter John Flowers contributed to this report.

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