(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - "I feel sad for them," said Lauren Merritt of Waitsfield, Vt., reflecting on her family in Colorado, and thousands of other families impacted by the recent widespread flash flooding there. "My heart breaks for them. I just think of the recovery they have to go through."
Merritt said she has cousins and an aunt and uncle in the Boulder area. There, mountain towns were cut off for days after torrential rains brought historic floods. The death toll has risen to at least seven, with hundreds still unaccounted for. Emergency management officials said around 1,500 homes were destroyed and about 17,500 others were damaged.
"Usually when you look at Colorado, you talk about drought and fires, and things that Vermont usually can't relate to," Merritt said. "But we can relate to flooding and the power of water."
Why Vermont can relate is Tropical Storm Irene, which struck the small state in late August of 2011. The powerful storm was blamed for the deaths of six Vermonters, damaging or destroying more than 500 miles of roads, and damaging or destroying hundreds of bridges.
"It's a totally different response than your normal capital program," said Vermont Transportation Secretary Brian Searles.
The office of Democratic Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said at the request of Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, three Vermont Agency of Transportation staffers traveled to Colorado to help that state plan decision-making and priorities as it charts repairs.
Sue Minter, the agency’s deputy secretary, chief engineer Richard Tetreault, and Scott Rogers, director of operations, are in Colorado. The state of Colorado is funding their trip, Shumlin's office said.
"Vermont learned tough lessons from Irene, including how to rebuild quickly and in ways that make it less likely future flooding will create such catastrophe," Gov. Shumlin said in a press release. "Now Colorado has the same opportunity, unfortunately stemming from tragedy, to reduce the likelihood that future flooding will lead to terrible destruction and loss of life."
Searles told New England Cable News that Irene was a similar enough weather situation to Colorado's floods that the Rocky Mountains can surely learn from the Green Mountains.
"It's the same sort of torrent of water taking out homes, infrastructure, so on," Searles explained. "It's the same kind of phenomenon. It's a different response than inundation flooding where the water backs up and then goes away and your road's still there."
Vermont has become something of a national model when it comes to rebuilding roads, Searles said. The state even hosted a conference this summer to share strategies with other states. At that event on July 22, Carlos Braceras of the Utah Dept. of Transportation told WPTZ-TV that states' individual experiences can serve as lessons for others.
"Sometimes we think we're all different, but there's a lot of commonality with the challenges we are dealing with," Braceras said.
Merritt said she appreciates the advice the Vermont Agency of Transportation is offering Colorado, and added she hopes her family and the many other affected families will get back on their feet soon.
"One of the things about natural disasters that we see is how community comes together," Merritt observed. "I think the spirit and the gesture is beautiful, of Vermont at least saying, 'We got through this. It was a devastating time for us. You can get to the other side.'"
Since repair work in Vermont is still ongoing more than two years after Irene, namely with the effort to rebuild the state's ruined state office complex in Waterbury, one top lesson for Colorado may be that flood recovery won't be easy or fast.