The Mountain Times

°F Fri, April 18, 2014

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My first experience with a storm of such magnitude

Another August has arrived. The month of humid days and nights. Another Vermont August with warm swimming holes and perfect weather for a swim or two. A month known for idyllic summer weather.

It is now also known as the month of "The Storm." Tropical Storm Irene has been a topic of conversation since it happened. If you talk long enough with anyone, "The Storm" eventually fits in somehow. Without changing the conversation drastically, suddenly Irene is there. Whether you are talking about weather, money, real estate, work, tourism, relationships, character of people, etc… Everyone and everything was affected in some way. Many are still recovering from the luck that was dealt to them in the form of the biggest natural disaster to hit Vermont in my lifetime. The work and recovery continues. We have experienced a few tremors in the Appalachian bedrock in these parts, as well as a minor twister or two. But during my life in Southern Vermont, there has never been anything like Irene.

The day the storm raged I was working at The Mountain Top Inn in Chittenden. It was August, and weddings were being celebrated almost daily while overlooking the Chittenden Reservoir. In the kitchen we were preparing for another successful wedding effort. The rain was coming down. The rivers were rising, and in between prep work and deciding if the wedding would be cancelled or not, we watched streaming video shot by locals all over the state of rivers that turned into torrents. The bride, which had been there all morning went into Rutland to take care of some final preparations, and apparently could not get back into Chittenden for her wedding.

Route 7 was underwater and impassable as you head north out of the city and the bridge behind Sugar and Spice in Mendon was also flooded. Someone told us in the kitchen that the bridge was gone completely.

An unsettling pall worked its way through the Inn as first the electricity went out and then the phones and internet. The big generator kept us in electricity for the night, and before we lost internet, we watched images of Vermont being washed down river. Every river. I watched streaming video with the helpless and unbelieving weight of reality forming in the pit of my stomach. I watched class III rapids running down the main streets of countless towns. Another video of a camper being strained through a very sturdy bridge. For a moment it stuck on the bridge and then the raging river (which usually was a quiet friendly stream) tore it to pieces and it was gone. Unbelievable.

Anxiously I waited for the word to come down about the wedding. In the kitchen, one of the chefs received a call on his cell to come home quick because his basement was turning into a pool. The tiny stream behind his house jumped out of its banks and flooded across his yard and into the house. He left and made it home before Chittenden was completely cut off. The rest of us continued to cut vegetables and prepare appetizers for the wedding. No one knew where the bride was, and the wedding was still in doubt. Nobody could leave Chittenden anyway. Word came down that there was no way in or out of Chittenden.
Madness. What was happening out there?

I worried about the calm babbling brook behind my house and wondered if it was now in my house. We continued to work, not knowing for sure what was happening to Vermont. The wedding was cancelled a couple of times until finally the bride showed up and it was un-cancelled. I never got the story, but I pictured in my mind, a bride in her white wedding dress fording an angry river with her bouquet held high over her head keeping it out of the water, determined to get to her big celebration. She arrived safe anddry and got married within the spinning mass of Tropical Storm Irene.

Maybe it is good luck to be married during a Hurricane. I hope so because there was plenty of bad luck going around that day.
I left work as soon as I could and not more than a quarter mile down the road, a big poplar had blown down and blocked the only road in and out. Everyone wanted to get going, and it took four of us chefs to push the tree out of the way and into the ditch. I drove to my Chittenden home to find about an inch and a half of water in my basement.

I lucked out. Very minor damage. Especially compared to the large number of Vermonters who lost much, much more.
It was my first experience with a storm of such magnitude. The power of the thing was amazing. Then as soon as the storm moved on, I experienced another powerful form of energy replace it. The empowering energy of communities coming together to help each other in the aftermath of a disaster. Immediately, help stations were set up through out the state. Neighbors were sharing food, their homes, water, and sympathy. The shared strength of a community of Vermonters was put to the test like never before.
At the Chittenden Fire Department, they collected donations and then brought supplies to cut off communities. They were not the only ones that were traversing old logging roads to towns that had their major roads washed away. Vermonters stepped up and took care of their own. Across the state this type of work was being done by your neighbors. Golf carts and time were donated to get into "The Islands" of Killington and Pittsfield. For weeks the strength of the people flowed into damaged communities and lives. Folks were giving just to give.

The work continues, and Vermont is still far from a full recovery. It will be years before Vermont shakes off this storm, and hopefully we will not see its likes again. But if we do get any more exciting weather in these parts, at least there is now a tested safety net of community support.

Tagged: hurricane irene, Reflections