Dust plumes rise from Vermont towns flooded by hurricane

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 01, 2011 5:09 PM
Dust plumes rise from Vermont towns flooded by hurricane

By Scott Malone

RUTLAND, Vermont (Reuters) - Five days after the remnants of Hurricane Irene triggered severe flooding across landlocked Vermont, residents struggled to come to terms with destroyed homes, lost power and the plumes of dust kicked up as the mud left behind by the storm began to dry.

Across the southern half of the mountainous, rural New England state, residents tried to clean up the mess left behind since the worst flooding the state had seen since 1927.

"The thing that gets me is the dust. Look at the cars, they're all covered, and people still go barreling down the street, kicking it up," said Melody Hawkins, 55, as the sat on her front stoop overlooking Cleveland Avenue in Rutland, a town of 16,495 people in central Vermont.

Hawkins said it was not her usual habit to sit outside, but had become a necessity after the basement of her building flooded with water that smelled of sewage.

"Everything smells like sewer because the water got up so high. It stinks so bad," Hawkins said. "In the two years I've lived in this building, this is the most time I've spent outside."

The town's water treatment facility was damaged by the storm and signs around the downtown urged residents to limit their water usage. Shovels were the primary tool in evidence as homeowners worked to clear mud from their properties, which they used to form piles of mud alongside their flooded possessions on the curbs in front of their homes.

The flooding, which killed at least three people in the state, cut off residents of 13 towns including Rochester and Pittsfield after the roads leading into them were destroyed. Authorities said they had reestablished limited access to those towns over patched roadways for emergency crews, though the roads remained closed to the public.

In Rochester, about two dozen graves in a local cemetery were torn up by the water. Photos by local media outlets showed coffins exposed on the ground.

Crews of road workers were out in force across the state on Thursday, working to repair major highways that were washed out by flooding.

Authorities estimated that more than 3,000 homes and businesses were still without power by Thursday, down from 30,000 in the storm's immediate aftermath.

'WE LOST EVERYTHING'

Residents of Cleveland Avenue said at the flood's height some three feet of water cascaded down the street

"There's so much mud," said Lu Ann Wetherby, 67. "We lost everything in the basement, all our Christmas decorations. Some of them went back 60 years."

Pockets of destruction were visible across the state's river valleys -- upland areas were largely unscathed.

In Ludlow, David Barrows, 59, stood in front of his home, sorting through piles of soaked clothes and tools, deciding what he could keep and what must be discarded after eight feet of flood water hit his home.

"The flood destroyed everything. The basement filled all the way, I lost the woodshop where I used to work with my dad," said Barrows, who said he had lived in the house for 50 years.

The force of the floodwaters -- which flattened vegetation and wrapped debris around telephone poles in the ski village of Ludlow -- blew out Barrows' garage door, sweeping away his shop-vac and chain saw, tools he said he could have used for the cleanup.

A bigger concern was that the firewood and wood pellets he uses to heat his home had been soaked.

"Winter's not that far away," Barrows said.

(Editing by Greg McCune)