Arduous Cleanup After Vt. Flash Flooding Leaves Thick Mud, Silt

The city of Barre, Vermont was hit hard by flash flooding late Sunday night.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, praised the hard work of city and state officials, along with the Vermont National Guard, volunteers from the American Red Cross, and others, who responded to severe flash flooding Sunday night into Monday morning in Barre.

Shumlin also predicted Barre will have some tough decisions ahead of it as it works to mitigate future flood risks. The governor told reporters about recommendations in a recent report, funded through a federal grant, which suggested a bridge removal and property buyouts along the Gunner Brook to create a larger flood plain.

That move could give water, mud, and debris more space to spill, reducing the impacts on homes and businesses, Shumlin said. He suggested the report deserves a close examination, because several streets impacted by flash flooding this week were also affected by similar flooding in 2011.

“We’re going to have to take a courageous and forward-thinking approach to make sure we’re not back here next year or the year after,” Shumlin said.

Parts of central Vermont saw as much as four to six inches of rain Sunday night, then fast runoff from surrounding hillsides. Together, that sparked the flash flooding in Barre, public safety officials explained. Nearby Plainfield also saw significant damage, including road washouts, transportation officials said.

The Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security will be collecting information from Barre, Plainfield, and other communities impacted by the flooding to see if the state or individual counties qualify for federal disaster aid. The minimum threshold to qualify is a million dollars in damage to public infrastructure statewide from a single storm event, emergency management officials noted.

Janet Martin of Barre witnessed her yard and driveway turned into a thick mud bog, she told necn. She also said she saw water gush into her basement, but that pumps were able to keep most of it at bay.

“We knew we were in big trouble,” Martin said, recalling a conversation she had with her neighbor Sunday night. “We had just taken our dogs out and we looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got to get our cars out of here. That brook is coming over!’ And by the time I put my dog in the house, and got my car, we had to gun it across the street; it was already flooded.”
On hard-hit Harrington Avenue, basement pumps were working long hours. So were crews hauling away mud and debris that had clogged the Gunner Brook before it spilled its banks.

“I’m not at all worried about our ability to recover,” said Mayor Thom Lauzon of Barre. “My job as mayor is simply to keep the resources coming.”

The American Red Cross said 15 people checked themselves into an emergency shelter Sunday night in Barre. The Red Cross said it would stay in touch with those people to help them get the resources they need to point them down the road to recovery.

Business owner Quan Le told necn he hopes to be able to reopen his nail salon, Paris Nails, in three or four days, if he can get through the backbreaking cleanup and replace equipment that was lost. “Whatever broke, we can buy a new one, put it back, and start our business again,” Le said.

This all felt like déjà vu for the parts of Barre that experienced serious flooding in 2011. Public safety officials said that experience was good preparation for this latest response.

“As far as being able to call the right people and get the right stuff moving, and know exactly what we need, yeah, we’re way ahead of that from where we were four years ago,” said Chief Tim Bombardier of the Barre City Police Department.
Bombardier said city inspectors were helping residents figure out if their electrical systems were safe or if their basements were contaminated with toxins after the floods.

For more information on safety following a flood, visit this page provided by the Vermont Department of Health:

According to the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, residents who suffered losses to floodwaters may call 2-1-1 to obtain clean-up kits for their home, and inquire about future potential volunteer assistance in cleaning up. 2-1-1 will coordinate requests for resources like these so the state and volunteer organizations can determine where and what type of assistance is needed, emergency management officials said in a news release.

Vermonters who suffered damage to their homes in the storm should report that damage to their city or town, the news release added. Towns will compile damage reports that will allow the state to determine if any other assistance could be available to homeowners.

Bombardier and Lauzon both said that the flash flooding Sunday night into Monday morning was less severe than the 2011 flooding in terms of its reach. While the people hardest-hit in the new round of flooding certainly suffered severe losses, the pair noted that in 2011, the Stevens Branch of the Winooski River also flooded, in addition to the Gunner Brook. The Stevens Branch flooding meant there was a larger path of water damage in 2011 than this week’s floods.

The flooding Sunday night into Monday did not reach into the core stretch of Barre’s downtown, which recently saw a major revitalization effort. That stretch was struck by the floods of 2011, Lauzon noted.

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