Wilmington residents, business owners start digging out, cleaning up

Wednesday August 31, 2011

WILMINGTON -- After waiting all day Monday for inspectors to check the infrastructure in downtown Wilmington, residents and business owners were finally allowed back into the area on Tuesday to start the clean-up process from Sunday's deluge.

Main Street was a flurry of activity. People wearing dirty T-shirts, jeans, gloves and sometime facemasks were coming in and out of each building carrying water-soaked debris, as National Guard personnel directed traffic from Route 9 west to Route 100 north, including a great number of dump trucks carrying fill material for road repairs. The rest of Route 9 west was still blocked to everyone but authorized personnel and vehicles.

Eileen Ranslow, owner of Wilmington Floor & Walls was inside her store sifting through all of the damaged inventory on the first floor -- mostly dripping wet carpet and tile samples, along with warped shelves and furniture. With each step she took her feet made a squishing sound from water and mud all over the floor.

A handful of volunteers helped her carry the debris onto the sidewalk just outside.

"I probably lost $150,000 to $200,000 in inventory on the first floor, and about $60,000 in the basement," said Ranslow.

Sunday's flash flood not only filled her basement, but the water also came up about four feet or so on the first floor. After 40 years in business, Ranslow said this was the worst flooding she's ever seen. At this point she's not sure what's going to happen because insurance may not cover the damages.

"I don't believe anybody in town has flood insurance. We were not in the flood plain," she said.

Just outside, on the corner of Route 9 and Route 100, Patrice Schneider from the Mount Snow Chamber of Commerce was watching dump trucks and other traffic go by, wearing a face mask to protect herself from all the dirt wafting into the air from the passing vehicles. Schneider was posted there to make sure no one got farther down Main Street unless they had official authorization. She said there was concern that the bridge across the Deerfield River wasn't safe.

As she watched the traffic, she lamented the devastation her neighborhood has suffered, and expressed awe at the force of nature that caused it all.

"It's like nothing I've ever seen before," said Schneider, who lives higher up on Winter Haven Road. "It was scary. I was screaming at people that were getting too close to the water."

Her husband Roland Schneider, a lifelong resident, said it left him "speechless to see all of the debris, the swiftness of the river, how fast things were getting ruined."

"It's just really sad for the local businesses that have to go through this without insurance," he added.

Roland said the timing couldn't have been worse. Area businesses rely on tourism during the Labor Day weekend and the leaf-peeping season to get them through until the winter ski season starts.

"It's the revenue lost from now until then that you can never get back," he said, but then added on a high note, "We will rebuild."

Susan Lawrence, owner of The Anchor restaurant just down the road, knows a thing or two about rebuilding. She had just recently reopened her businesses after it was destroyed by a fire. On Tuesday she was in the kitchen passing out frozen hamburger for the shelter, while a generator plugged into the freezer drowned any other noise in the area.

"Our basement was flooded up to the ceiling," she shouted over the generator. "We lost all of the beer and wine and dry goods, and our operating systems are in the basement.

"It was amazing to watch how quickly the water rose," she continued, pointing to some crumpled pieces of furniture that had floated down the street from Maple Leaf Malt & Brewing.

Still, the dining area and kitchen on the first floor of her restaurant were not damaged. It may be a couple of weeks before she can open again because the basement infrastructure and the electric systems have to be checked out, and she does have some cleanup work to do.

She considers herself fortunate, though, and as one experienced with disasters she had some advice for her neighbors.

"We made it through (the fire), we can make it through this one," she said. "Maybe that will be an inspiration for everyone that people will be there for you. Wilmington will rise again. A lot of people I'm sure are super discouraged, but we'll get through it."

Melanie Winters can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 161, or mwinters@reformer.com.


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