The Mountain Times

°F Thu, April 24, 2014

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What we thought would be a meer rainstorm turned out to be a flood; community shined through

It started raining on a Sunday, the day after we had just finished our last "Cooler in the Mountains" concert. Most of us considered the idea of a "Hurricane" coming to be a joke, and in fact considered our 'Hurricane preparedness kit' to be an extra six pack of Long Trail in the fridge.

That morning, I was lying in my bed watching a movie when I noticed water starting to seep under one of my outside doors into my bedroom (I lived in a lower unit by the intersection of Dean Hill and Killington Road.) I texted my landlord, who responded that I had bigger problems - my entire road was flooded. Indeed, I wandered outside only to find water up to my waist, and it was only about noon at this time. I called my friends who lived higher up the hill and begged for help (while promising to bring the Long Trail with me,) but even their SUVs couldn't make it through the 3 foot-high water.  Eventually, I pulled on my raincoat, threw my laptop, phone and a toothbrush in a garbage bag, and waddled my way through the water by holding a guardrail until I made it to the other side. That night, I stayed with friends higher up the hill, where we watched the water and were amazed at the chaos it was bringing.

The next day, I returned to my house and didn't think it was that bad - until I found lizards crawling through my clothing and realized most of the floor had gotten soaked underwater. For better or worse, I had been in constant contact with Seth, who was still stuck in Woodstock, and making his way to Killington. He asked me to bring my laptop and come to the Firehouse to write up some press responses and media/public meeting notes, where I thought I was perhaps going to work for a few hours. 

Fast forward to a week later, and I was working 18 hour days there, having somehow been designated the communications director for the relief efforts. Whether it was meeting MSNBC crews via police escort at the destroyed sites, walking through the 'Mendon Gulf' with Peter Welch, or giving 'on the ground' reports to CNN and the New York Times, it became obvious that suddenly the entire country was interested in our tiny community.

However, the stories that came out of Killington didn't focus just on destruction, although I do have memories of sitting around a bar with a meeting of restaurant owners as they just sat silently with their heads in their hands, wondering what the impact on foliage season would be. The stories that compelled people to donate supplies, food, money, and goodwill were those that focused on our strength, resiliency and ability to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.

Indeed, I had reporters asking me most often not, "where can we get a shot of destruction," but "who can we talk to that has an inspiring story to tell?" And whether it was Constable Whit Montgomery, who slept in his car amid rising waters, the local nurses who set up a prescription delivery program for trapped residents (and their pets) or Sheila Pilsmaker, who stayed to arrange a food shelf at the Killington Elementary School while her own farm and animals went without power and water, the stories of heroes were what the nation saw from Killington.

Myself and many, many others, including Town staff, incredible amounts of volunteers, fire and rescue, police, business owners and so many more worked tirelessly, often sleeping less than 3 hours, if at all, for days at a time. But despite that, working in the fire station for those few weeks was one of the best experiences I've had in Killington despite the horrific reason we were all there.

The people I worked with, sense of community, and selflessness of everyone not just in our town, but in those surrounding, and the state, left me speechless and thankful to be in a community that values that spirit and strength.

Having come from a city where we would wait for help, instead of helping ourselves, it was truly amazing to see so many people selflessly working for people they had never met. It was inspiring, energizing, and a fantastic experience. Although I sincerely hope Killington (and Vermont) never sees another disaster of that magnitude, I'll always remember the exceptional people and communities who banded together to help so many others - and that's a memory for a lifetime.

PS - I also want to thank the Snowed Inn, Killington Grand, and various condo owners who loaned their homes to me when mine got flooded in the months after the storm.  Incredible kindness.

Tagged: hurricane irene, Reflections, killington