This sign in front of the Jamaica Coffee Shop says it all. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
This sign in front of the Jamaica Coffee Shop says it all. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Wednesday August 31, 2011

JAMAICA -- On Sunday, Irene washed out the Route 30 bridge over Ball Mountain Brook in Jamaica, destroying the main entryway into the village.

The town's response to the disasters has been nearly as swift as the flood that swept through town.

"Jamaica has been planning and preparing for something like this for a while," noted Karen Ameden, owner of D&K's Jamaica Grocery.

"Paul Fraser, a member of the Selectboard, has spent a lot of time with emergency management," said Ameden. "The town response seemed to come together very smoothly.

By 9 p.m. on Monday, the town had finished building a temporary road that allows emergency vehicles to reach the people and buildings most in need of help, including the towns farther north on Route 30.

"Tomorrow they'll start working on Pikes Falls Road," said Ameden.

"This is just one incredible example of the extraordinary things Vermonters can do in the most challenging situations," said Oliver Olsen, Jamaica resident and State Representative for Jamaica, Londonderry, Stratton, Weston and Winhall.

The town also worked on Tuesday to evacuate 19 stranded residents along Pikes Falls/West Jamaica Road, portions of which had completely disappeared.

While first responders and volunteers had been quick to bring supplies to the stranded residents via ATVs, it became clear on Tuesday morning that evacuation was the best option.


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"These folks were really grateful, thrilled at how everyone looked after them," said Olsen in the moments between hurried calls at the Command Center at Jamaica's Three Mountain Inn. "We made the decision to evacuate and got them out on ATVs. Now we're working on places for people to stay."

While many towns in the West River Valley suffered serious flood damage, Jamaica found itself in a particularly challenging situation as the sudden waters raged through the town.

In addition to the destruction of the Route 30 bridge, large portions of Water Street and Depot Street were ripped to shreds, including much of the Fire Department's parking lot.

Worse, four homes along Water Street were torn from their foundations and carried away.

"The outpouring from everyone has been incredible," said Ameden. "The whole community has been pulling together like you wouldn't believe."

At D&K's, which functions as a social and commercial hub for the town, Ameden has seen a tremendous spontaneous response from residents as well.

Donations for displaced neighbors have become a welcome flood. Volunteers have traveled by ATV to evacuated homes to pick up stranded pets. The store phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to know how to help.

"We have a money donation jar on the counter and it's just filling up and filling up," Ameden said.

Ameden has also seen volunteers scour the banks of the now-receded brook, trying to gather up the mementos and photos lost when their neighbors' houses were tumbled downstream.

"People come in with handfuls, piles, bags full of photos and things that were taken in the flood, so that folks can find what they lost," she said. "Here, someone's bringing in a photograph right now. I don't even know whose baby picture this is. I've really been blown away by how much people want to help."

One way people can help, Olsen said, is to make a financial contribution to The Stratton Foundation's disaster relief fund at strattonfoundation.org.

As the town pulls together to rebuild itself, Olsen hopes that residents and visitors will be as safe as they are caring.

"One big concern I have is with traffic," he said. "We have a lot of people trying to get through this area and it is just not accessible. We have a serious shortage of traffic barriers and cones and signs, so people put up makeshift barriers that drivers might ignore because they look hokey, and then they are in a dangerous situation, or they move and forget to replace them, and the next driver has no warning."

If a barrier is blocking a road, he said, respect it.