Editor's Note: This story, by former Reformer reporter Chris Garofolo, originally ran in our Dec. 31, 2011 edition. It gives a perfect "snapshot" of the days, weeks and few months following the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, which wrecked havoc on Windham County and the rest of Vermont two years ago, today.
BRATTLEBORO -- Vermonters braced for Tropical Storm Irene for days before the powerful bombardment of wind and rain slammed into New England. Utility workers began arriving even before the storm did, many getting to the Green Mountain State the last weekend of August.
Boat owners pulled their crafts from the rivers and lakes, businesses boarded up windows as relief centers stockpiled foods and prepared cots for the worst.
On Sunday, Aug. 28, Irene hit Brattleboro.
The storm hit Windham County with torrential rains that caused the closure of many roads and bridges because of washouts. Residents in low-lying areas were evacuated, as were businesses on Flat Street, which was under water from the swelling Whetstone Brook.
Williams Street sustained so much damage, it had to be closed. It remains closed to everything but local traffic to this day. The Brattleboro Area Farmers' Market had a majority of its booths washed away as the property turned into a giant mud puddle, but more than 100 volunteers came out Sept. 1 to assist in the cleanup and had the space ready for the opening weekend.
At first, tenants at Glen Park were forgotten in the recovery efforts, with trailers completely destroyed from the storm.
"I've been crying my eyes out for days," said resident Rose Calderon. Over the next few months, organizers joined with tenants and volunteers to clear the excess debris from the West Brattleboro properties, the largest effort was on Oct. 22 for "Clean Up Day," a special event for recovery efforts.
Wilmington was among the hardest hit communities in the state. Town officials quickly established an operations center in the Twin Valley High School as flooding damaged most downtown buildings, including the fire department and well-known eatery Dot's Restaurant. Route 9, doubling as Wilmington's Main Street, was closed in several areas heading toward Brattleboro.
The Vermont National Guard set up near the pergola at the intersection of routes 9 and 100. Even while chunks of Route 100 disappeared heading south into Whitingham, but the spirit around the region was never waterlogged.
"It was devastating all over, but everybody's been pulling together," said Whitingham Town Clerk Almira Aekus.
Residents like Joseph Geradi, who runs the Twin Valley food program, served as chef for days serving hundreds of meals to anyone in need. State road crews were able to get Route 9 from Bennington to Brattleboro re-opened by Sept. 8. Among the many landmarks affected by the storm was the Bartsonsville Covered Bridge in Rockingham, which was destroyed; the Latchis complex in Brattleboro, which was flooded and needed extensive renovation; North Star Bowl in Wilmington, also flooded and in need of extensive renovation; and Dot's restaurant, a cornerstone of downtown Wilmington.
By Monday, Aug. 29, storefronts in downtown Brattleboro began cleanup efforts as the Whetstone Brook finally dropped back to normal levels. Flat Street was covered in mud and debris. The Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro had volunteers with shovels and heavy brooms help get the debris out of their building, which was reopened on Sept. 9.
On Aug. 30, more than 200 people jammed into the Dover Elementary School to figure out how to care for infrastructure and transportation needs. Wilmington remained a beehive of activity to recovery from the flooding of the Deerfield River, bringing residents from around town to its center in order to aid with cleanup efforts.
Some of the smaller towns, like Wardsboro, remained isolated for days after the storm. Others, like Jamaica, lost the main routes into the village.
"I don't think we could have gotten any worse," said Wardsboro Assistant Fire Chief Warner Manzke. "It's going to be a long time before we're back to normal."
The town of Halifax, which experienced millions of dollars of damage to its roads, reached out to stranded residents with food and water. The costs to repair Halifax's infrastructure were more than triple the town's allocation for road improvements.
Farmers in towns like Westminster lost half their crops. The Dutton Berry Farm estimated $75,000 worth of damage and feared for the retail end of the business right before the busy leaf-peeper season. Other farmers were forced to wipe out entire fields of organic produce that were contaminated with dirty water overflowing onto their properties.
The White House declared flood-ravaged Vermont a major disaster area on Sept. 1, which helped bring in more federal aid to the state.
Vermont's congressional trio worked with Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get the necessary resources where they were most needed.
"The president and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have pledged the full support of the federal government to help Vermont recover from the devastation left in the storm's wake," Shumlin said.
Anthony Doleszny of Brattleboro died sometime between Sept. 4-5 after falling into the Whetstone Brook when he picked up his bicycle, crossed several barricades and proceeded to make his way back to his Marlboro Road home.
Community outreach started less than a week after Irene with the WVEW Brattleboro Community Radio's benefit on Sept. 3. A week later, local bands teamed up for the Goodnight Irene Benefit Dance at the Stone Church. On Sept. 23, the Floodstock VT music festival kicked off in Dover to help businesses in the Deerfield Valley.
On Sept. 6, Brattleboro held one of its many informational meetings to provide updates to residents still suffering from Irene's aftermath, noting 143 properties were damaged by the flooding. On Sept. 9, Entergy, the owner of Vermont Yankee, announced it was donating $100,000 for repairs.
Neale Lunderville, appointed the state's recovery officer, toured some of the county's hardest hit communities on Sept. 11 with State Rep. Oliver Olsen, R-Jamaica, who said multiple homes in Winhall, Jamaica and Londonderry were lost. Meanwhile, Dave and Steve Paquette vowed to Sept. 13 to reopen Marlboro Collision, Repair and Towing.
Portions of the business' structure dropped into the Whetstone Brook when the waters caused the banks underneath the shop to erode.
By Sept. 16, more than 950 residents around the county registered for federal aid, that number tripled from earlier in the month. FEMA approved slightly more than $1.3 million in grants for Windham County. Later in the week, Brattleboro officials reported high costs for the cleanup, much of which coming from temporary bridges and overtime work for road crews.
The Flat Street Brew Pub held a fundraiser on Oct. 1 to help with its recovery efforts. The tavern, which suffered major interior damage, reopened on Dec. 15 and owners hope to get the basement Tap Room up and running in January, 2012. The Latchis Theatre opened its doors once again for movie showings on Oct. 14.
Wilmington businesses put out the phrase "where amazing happens" on Oct. 7 to signal the renaissance of its downtown during the height of tourist season. Jamaica's emergency management director praises the town for its efforts in the face of adversity as the general store begins selling T-shirts saying "Fix it now, apologize later."
"I've never seen a better-run command post than the one we've had in Jamaica," said EMD Paul Fraser. "The people around here jumped in and did the stuff that needed to be done."
Thirty-five guard rail posts that were slated for Irene repair projects in Rockingham were stolen around Oct. 19.
Gov. Peter Shumlin established the Community Recovery Partnership talks on Nov. 8 to partner the state government with Vermontwide organizations to aid communities still reeling from Irene.
The U.S. Congress approved emergency relief funding for Vermont on Nov. 17. The following week, Vermont Treasurer Elizabeth Pearce said the state will speed up highway and school payments to communities in much-need of financial assistance after Irene.
"The goal of this package is to ease the cash flow pressures and take away some of the worries so many municipalities are facing in the aftermath of the disaster," Pearce said.
Four months after Irene engulfed Vermont, officials on Dec. 29 marked the reopening of the last stretch of highway (Route 107 between Bethel and Stockbridge) that was closed by the storm. In total, more than 500 miles of roads and 200 bridges were destroyed and six people killed because of Irene.