Gov. Peter Shumlin, left, with Sen. Patrick Leahy, center, and Adj. Gen. Mike Dubie of the Vermont National Guard address the media on Frost Street during
Gov. Peter Shumlin, left, with Sen. Patrick Leahy, center, and Adj. Gen. Mike Dubie of the Vermont National Guard address the media on Frost Street during a statewide tour of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene, Monday. (Josh Stilts/Reformer)
Tuesday August 30, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- Gone. Dozens of homes, roadways, bridges, businesses and parked cars vanished as Tropical Storm Irene caused historic flooding in southern Vermont.

As water levels began to recede Monday, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sen. Patrick Leahy and the Adjutant General of the State of Vermont, Mike Dubie, flew over the state in a helicopter and visited downtown Brattleboro.

"We prepared for the worst and it hit us here harder than we imagined," Shumlin said. "It's just devastating. We haven't seen flooding like this since the early part of the 1900s."

Along Frost Street crews worked tirelessly to clean-up the debris of 20-foot plus trees that had washed along the banks.

"What was most shocking was to see the damage from above," Leahy said. "We were looking down and the area would look fine, then a few seconds later you'd look down again and it would be all washed out."

Dubie said units from the Vermont National Guard were able to reach parts of Wilmington, which was hit the worst in the county by Irene. Rescue crews had to travel through multiple different routes to reach Massachusetts before getting to the Deerfield Valley to help Sunday evening.

"I know it was frustrating for them because there were so many roads closed and washed out," Dubie said.

When addressing the media, Shumlin stated that the area will rebuild.

"Vermonters are tough," he said. "We need to lean on each other in this time and help out one another, especially our elderly citizens. If you can, invite them to stay with you, it's much more comfortable to have a warm meal at someone's house than at a shelter."

Leahy said he couldn't comment on how extensive the damage is but did add that it could be weeks, if not months, before roads, buildings and lives are reconstructed.

Other U.S. Senators have pledged to help Vermont, Leahy said, and on Monday President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for the state, allowing federal aid to be sent to Vermont.

Todd Maskell, 38, lives on Elliot Street and said Sunday's devastation was like watching a Hollywood disaster movie.

"I've lived here my whole life and I've never seen anything like this," Maskell said.

He said he saw the Whetstone Brook grow from a tiny stream to a massive river within 20 minutes.

"I watched a Mercedes Benz go the down the street like a boat," he said.

Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn said emergency crews and police officers put in a lot of frustrating hours and because they were thinking on their feet a worse crisis was adverted.

Although they did some tremendous work, Wrinn said it could be all for naught if people continued to ignore safety signs and precautions and he urged people to take the warnings seriously.

"In a situation this big, we don't have enough people to be everywhere, monitoring every potential hazard," Wrinn said. "We need others to pay attention to the signs we put up. You might see nice blacktop but you don't know what is or isn't underneath it."

Dick DeGray, Selectboard chairman echoed Wrinn's cautious words and commended the police, fire and rescue personnel for their outstanding work.

"I'm extremely proud of the pre-planning and he execution of our responders," he said. "This was more than any of us thought it was going to be.

Brattleboro Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray, left, and Brattleboro Town Manager Barb Sondag, right, tour the damage from Sunday’s flooding in
Brattleboro Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray, left, and Brattleboro Town Manager Barb Sondag, right, tour the damage from Sunday's flooding in Brattleboro with other state and federal officials. (Josh Stilts/Reformer)
We're 150 miles from the nearest ocean and the damage is still devastating."

DeGray said that although hundreds have been displaced and the damages reach into the millions, the silver lining was very few were hurt or killed because of the flooding.

"Stuff can be replaced, lives can't," he said.

Three deaths in Vermont have been confirmed as a result of the storm, according to Vermont Emergency Management.

Along Frost Street as town and government officials surveyed the scene Monday they came across dozens of downed trees and a building where a quarter of its structure hung over the Whetstone Brook, threatening to collapse at any time.

"Irene was gonna land somewhere. We're not Manhattan, our small streams quickly became big rivers," Shumlin said. "We've lost churches, homes and historic bridges. But we will rebuild."

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.