Across region, stories of storm still emerging

Wednesday August 31, 2011

WARDSBORO -- While recovery crews across Windham County have managed to reopen various roads since the remnants of Hurricane Irene hammered the region on Sunday, hundreds remain without power or completely isolated following the storm.

Large portions of Route 100 have washed away between West Wardsboro and the village center, leaving deep chasms where the roadway once existed. The entire town of Stratton lost phone service for some time. The Grafton Fire Department rescued a stranded woman clinging to a tree to avoid the flooding of Saxtons River.

"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 central part of the village at the Route 100 and Main Street junction is all but cut off from the world, said Anita Rafael of Wardsboro. "South Wardsboro is cut off from other sections of town because large sections of the South Wardsboro Road have washed out. Small dams and bridges broke in the Sheldon Hill area."

Standing near the rapidly moving currents of the brooks with some of the elderly residents, Rafael said they were saying this is the worst they ever witnessed in town. "The general opinion was nobody in their lifetime had seen this amount of water come through this valley."

Surrounding towns, such as Londonderry, Weston and Winhall, had heavy flooding in several areas. Entire stretches of roads were washed out, as were bridges along Routes 100 and 30. At this time, there are no reported fatalities in the region.

Manzke said few residents remain isolated, but the department has managed to check on mostly every dwelling in town. The poor condition of Route 100 has made it difficult considering the department could not even get an all-terrain vehicle across the road.

"Hopefully we're going to have that road as a one-way road by the end of the week, but the problem we're facing now is people are out and about and roads are not exactly safe to be traveled on," he said. "We're trying to keep people hunkered down, but that's obviously difficult."

Town resident Rene Cusick said while looking at a house hanging over the river that she's never seen such devastation in such a short amount of time.

"The road and the river became one," she said. "Words can't describe the destruction."

She said the town appeared to divided into three sections and crews from local excavating companies, Plimpton Excavating, Fitzpatrick Excavating and Urbanitti Excavating have worked throughout the past three days attempting to reconstruct roads and create exit routes.

Grafton was also slammed by the hurricane, but its historic village center remains untouched.

"A few people had problems with water coming into basements, but there were no major erosions in downtown Grafton at all, it's quite pleasant," said Grafton Fire Chief Eric Stevens. Many of the town's roads, on the other hand, are limited to local traffic.

"This flood is going to be much more extensive than the''96 flash flood because we have major sections of roads that are washed completely away and require rebuilding from bedrock on up," Stevens said. "We have not experienced this kind of flooding before."

Most of the town has phone service and about two-thirds of residents have power.

During the storm, fire crews spotted a motorist on Route 121 holding onto a tree for at least three hours after her vehicle was pinned.

"She was very happy to see anybody, she was very cold," Stevens said. The Saxtons River overflowed and swept up the vehicle.

While Grafton firefighters were able to save a life, some residents in Saxtons River village lost their homes in the storm.

As in Saxtons River, several Wardsboro families are out of their homes entirely after nearby brooks overflowed their banks and undercut the foundations. Seven residents were evacuated from a modular unit on South Wardsboro Road. Even the town clerk's house is facing destruction.

David Mullholland and his son Liam, of Westminster West, left their house to get some supplies and ended up witnessing the raging waters of the Saxtons River and took a picture of a tattered American flag hanging on a tree in the river.

"I thought it was amazing and sad," said Liam, 9. "I thought Mother Nature was incredible that she could do stuff like that."

"Liam was sad for the people who got hurt and for the people who lost their homes," said David.

Mullholland said it was important for him to remind his son to keep the event in perspective.

"As parents we need to say this is significant and we need to be empathetic and supportive of those who are suffering," he said.

Many remained without power throughout Tuesday afternoon, however several areas (including the town's fire department and country store) were restored around 10 a.m.

Brenda Siegel, who lives on Depot Road in Williamsville, said she was humbled by the experience of seeing the damage caused by the floods.

When she heard the storm was heading toward Vermont, she stayed with her grandparents on Spring Hill Road.

"I went down yesterday (Aug. 30) to see how my house was doing and the Rock River was unbelievably high. The river went up above the cliff and there are rocks everywhere."

A nearby private beach has grown in size due to the river washing away portions of the river bank.

"My part of the river is unrecognizable," said Siegel.

Dover Road between the covered bridge and the green iron bridge is gone, she said, which was disorienting to her.

"At one point I didn't know where I was," said Siegel.

She said people should think about how they can help those who are in need.

"Anyone that has a home or power should be finding a way to help someone," said Siegel.

Stratton clearing roads

Stratton Town Clerk Kent Young said every town resident is accounted for and crews continue to work on the roads.

"We had quite a few washouts and we were isolated basically through Wardsboro and Dover. We had Mountain Road out headed over to the Stratton resort, they did manage to repair that and open up the lane so we have access from both sides of town," he said. "Once we get a few more roads up, we'll be in pretty good shape. Most of the side roads we have access to."

At one point during the recovery, the only working phone in town when out and officials had to communicate through the Wardsboro fire department and Vermont Emergency Management. FairPoint has since returned phone service.

Weston Playhouse to reopen Friday

Despite heavy damage to the interior of Weston's acclaimed playhouse from Sunday's hurricane, the show must go on.

Weston Playhouse Theatre Company announced plans on Tuesday to reopen the production of "Saint-Ex" beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 2 after sustaining destruction in lower level portions of the theater, including the orchestra pit and dressing rooms. Early estimates at the playhouse were between $100,000 and $200,000.

"We pumped out the water and then we have just been cleaning up," said spokeswoman Sarah Ishu. The production staff has joined with volunteers to save what they can from the playhouse while others have dropped off food for hungry workers, she said.

"The building is not damaged structurally. Everything on the first floor was flooded out with almost eight feet of water," Ishu continued. "No water got into where the seating is or the stage itself."

Ticket holders for performances prior to Friday can call the office at 802-824-5288 to schedule an alternative date. The box office will reopen as soon as power is restored in town.

News from other towns

-- Dummerston is reporting a dozen downed trees following the storm. Sunset Lake Road was temporarily closed right after the hurricane, but is now open as a one lane road. All other roads in town are open.

-- Traveling across Route 121 to get into Bellows Falls, the village center was pretty good shape, according to the fire department, but rural roads remain closed. There was no severe damage to the village. The highway department has repaired Hitchcock Road enough to get motorists through and continues to make process on other rural roads.

-- Guilford has closed River Road south of the covered bridge to the Massachusetts border. There is about two miles that can be traveled by a high-performance four-wheel drive vehicle, but most of the road is gone.

Additionally, Jelly Mill Road is considered impassible. Hinesburg Road is fine in Guilford but closed at the Halifax border, as is Hale Road, which is open to residents only.

Stage Road is open all the way into Halifax. All other roads are temporally repaired but should be driven with caution.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.


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