One house is destroyed in Barre landslides as flooding loosens up the ground
Like many towns and cities across Vermont, Barre has begun the clean up after last week’s historic flooding. But as people begin to assess damage to businesses and homes, some residents are now contending with the threat of landslides.
Five homes have been evacuated due to unstable ground above the houses, said Barre City Manager Nicolas Storellicastro.
One home was destroyed in a landslide around 4 a.m. on July 11.
Doug and Rhoda Mason have called Barre their home for almost their entire married life. A brown house with green shutters on Portland St., they intended for it to only be their starter home. Yet they ended up raising children, hosting family Christmas parties, and growing old there for 41 years.
But as floodwaters rose in Barre last week, the bank behind the Masons' house became loose, knocking the house entirely off the foundation.
Doug and Rhoda were asleep in their living room when they woke to the crash of a tree falling outside. As they started to hear more noises, Rhoda told Doug to call for help.
“As he's connecting with 911, the house just imploded on top of us. Just cracking, whishing, knocked me right off the couch and twirled me around,” Rhoda said. “And I really said to myself, 'I think this is where we're going to die.'”
The Masons called 911 and firemen evacuated them from the house. They are currently staying with family and applying for FEMA assistance as they find a new home.
That same night, a landslide trapped three cars and stopped traffic on VT-62, commonly known as the beltway in Barre. Rhoda recounted that the firemen who brought her and Doug to the emergency room after they were evacuated then went back to help with that other landslide.
“The cars were upside down and everything,” Rhoda said. “So [the firemen] were busy. And they both said that they'd seen stuff that night that they had never seen before.”
In the past week, Barre has seen upwards of 40 landslides, according to State Geologist Ben DeJong. As of Thursday, Storellicastro, the city manager, said they were currently monitoring 20 incidents in the Barre area. A landslide in Ripton also destroyed a mobile home on July 14.
Barre’s landscape makes it prone to landslides, especially in its hilly residential neighborhoods like Portland St.
The city sits on a couple hundred feet of sandy, clay-filled soils that are disconnected from the bedrock below, according to DeJong. When you combine this geological makeup with an “extraordinary amount of rain,” it's the perfect recipe for a landslide.
“When you put all of that water onto steep slopes that are not cored by bedrock or any other more competent material, they tend to give way,” DeJong said.
Storellicastro hopes a break in the weather will lessen the threat.
“We have gravity working against us," he said. "We have just completely saturated ground working against us, we have more rain that's just continued to come working against us."
“We have gravity working against us. We have just completely saturated ground working against us, we have more rain that's just continued to come working against us."Nicolas Storellicastro, Barre city manager
But as long as landslides remain an issue, DeJong encourages people to be on alert and watch for signs that a slope could be unstable.
Common signs of a possible slide are bulges of land at the bottom of a hill and trees bending towards or away from a slope.
But trees are also crucial to preventing landslides, as roots act as binders underneath the ground.
“Those trees are your best friend for knowing if your slope is safe, but they're also your best friend for holding that slope together,” DeJong said.
He also recommends diverting stormwater and runoff away from hills with silt fences or other “homegrown remedies.”
DeJong reminds people that this storm has “fundamentally changed the landscape,” and it could be a while before the land stabilizes. Until then, people must “remain vigilant.”
Storellicastro encourages those who want to help to donate to flood relief organizations or volunteer their time with clean up efforts. If you witness or suspect a landslide, contact your city or town manager and report it here to the Vermont Geological Survey.
As Barre balances both flood and landslide damages, the Masons are working to find a new home. They have not been able to access their house and retrieve any precious belongings.
“There's a lot of pictures that are on the walls that we can't get that are not replaceable, because they're pictures of the kids that — when they were born,” Doug Mason said. “There's just a lot of things in there that if and when they come to tear this down, I'm not sure if I'll be able to or allowed to get in there to get some of that stuff that's [in] there.”
And looking at their beloved home from behind yellow tape, the Masons recounted feeling safe the entire time they lived on Portland St.
“We lived here for 41 years. Never was I ever afraid. That bank has been behind us, you know, all our almost married life. All our son's life, and I never was afraid,” Rhoda said. “I never, never would have expected this.”
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Flooding recovery assistance and other key resources
- To apply for federal financial assistance, visit disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.
- Is your community under a boil-water notice? Find a statewide list here.
- For state road closure information, visit newengland511.org or @511VT on Twitter. To check the status of your town's local roads, consult your town website or social media.
- School activities and child care program closures are collected here.
- Find the latest forecasts and water levels for specific rivers from the National Weather Service.
- Are you returning to flooded property? Get tips on what to expect and how to stay safe while cleaning your home or car and how to deal with trash and debris.
- Here are tips for avoiding scams that can crop up after a disaster.
- Flood safety tips have been translated into 16 languages here.
- The Vermont Professionals of Color Network is connecting BIPOC Vermonters with recovery assistance.
- Business owners can find tips and resources from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
- To find more resources, visit vermont.gov/flood, vermont211.org or call Vermont 2-1-1.
- You can also report flood damage to 2-1-1 to help the state gather data, according to Vermont Emergency Management. (If you are a homeowner, you should also contact your insurance company.)
- The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has provided a resource page for farmers.
- Find the latest guidance about how to help with recovery.