Flood waters begin to recede in Montpelier and across Vermont, but more rain in forecast
The rain has stopped falling, and blue skies have opened up above many parts of Vermont.
But public safety officials say floodwaters remain high across the state — including in Montpelier, where residents woke up this morning to the most severe flooding the city has seen since at least 1992.
The main traffic through downtown Montpelier was swift water rescue boats floating through several feet of water to evacuate trapped residents.
Caroline Murphy watched the scene from the stoop of the dental practice she’s owned for almost 20 years.
"I mean, we’ve had things happen here before, but not to this extent," Murphy said. "Like, this is just, I almost can’t wrap my head around it, you know? It’s really unbelievable.”
During a press conference late this morning, Vermont’s public safety commissioner said the Montpelier-Barre region is among the hardest hit in the state.
City officials issued an alert early Monday morning warning that a dam upstream was nearing its capacity, which could lead to water spilling over and cause more flooding.
But by Tuesday afternoon, officials said that waters levels at the dam appeared to have stopped rising for the time being.
Flood waters had quickly receded in city streets by late afternoon.
In nearby Barre and Berlin, the Good Samaritan Haven shelter was forced to evacuate its locations Monday night. All guests went to the Barre Auditorium shelter run by the American Red Cross. Rick DeAngelis, co-director of the Good Samaritan Haven, said their Barre shelters will be open tomorrow but does not know when their Berlin location will reopen.
The view beyond Montpelier
In another hard-hit area, Ludlow resident Josh Lambert has been posting vivid social media videos of flooding damage in the village.
One clip shows a dark-colored car being swept under a bridge. Another shows a vehicle floating sideways through town with its windshield wipers on.
"There’s so much silt and mud, probably six inches in most places," Lambert said. "There’s a lot of propane tanks that let off last night, and the smell of that was pretty bad last night, and there’s a little tinge of that still today. There’s furniture all over the streets and people’s lawns, broken glass. It’s chaos just to look around and figure out where all these things came from."
Lambert says Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 showed how people could come together to rebuild. And he expects to see that spirit again in Ludlow, which residents say is facing similar damage.
Dozens of state roads across Vermont were closed today due to flooding and debris buildup.
Transportation officials are prioritizing restoring access to national highways, east-west routes, then arterial and feeder routes. But some towns remain in a holding pattern, like Waterbury.
Water rose overnight there, flooding some neighborhoods and blocking roadways. And the floodline is staying high.
Gary Dillon, Waterbury’s fire chief, said residents are beginning to feel frustrated and helpless.
"People are just waiting for the water to recede before people can get into their houses and offload water," Dillon said. "You can’t pump water out of your basement into water that’s going into your basement. It’s a vicious cycle right now until the water starts going down, and right now it’s going back up."
Public safety agencies continue to receive reports of Vermonters trapped in flooded homes and vehicles.
Swift water teams had conducted more than 100 rescues as of this morning.
There are also a handful of urban search and rescue teams and aircraft crews working around the clock, said Mike Cannon with the Department of Public Safety.
Cannon said the state's search and rescue operation could extend several days or longer, and he urged Vermonters to obey public safety signage and stay away from flooded areas.
"This is an extremely dangerous situation around any of these flooded waterways," Cannon said.
'Nowhere near over'
Though weather conditions have improved today, public safety officials are concerned about the outlook moving forward.
That's because there's more rain in the forecast starting Thursday. Gov. Phil Scott said that could bring more flooding because grounds across the state are already saturated with water.
"We are not out of the woods. This is nowhere near over," Scott said. "And in this phase, our primary focus continues to be on life and safety before we can shift into a recovery phase."
[Video: The Winooski River as seen from Overlook Park in Essex Junction, 5 p.m. Tuesday.]
The White House approved a request for a disaster declaration, which means there will be more federal help for rescue and recovery efforts.
In the meantime, Vermonters looking to volunteer are urged to focus their energies at the hyper-local level. That means checking on neighbors, especially those who may be most vulnerable.
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City officials issued an alert early Monday morning warning that a dam upstream was nearing its capacity, which could lead to water spilling over and cause more flooding. But by Tuesday afternoon, officials said that waters levels at the dam appeared to have stopped rising for the time being.