By Polly Lynn
Five years ago this week, Tropical Storm Irene killed six people in Vermont, ravaged 3,500 buildings, took out more than 500 miles of roads and about 200 bridges at an estimated cost of $733 million—a figure equal to two-thirds of the state’s annual general fund budget, according to VTDigger.
Washouts cut off access to 13 communities and hundreds of miles of roads were torn away and washed downstream by the rushing rivers. Train tracks buckled and of the bridges that remained, many had to be closed due to the extensive damage they sustained—including covered bridges some more than 100 years old. Much history was lost to the storm.
Locally, helicopters airlifted necessities to towns like Killington, Pittsfield and Rochester which were effectively cutoff by the road washouts. Some areas remained isolated for weeks.
Such memories still cut deep for those that lost the most—a house, a business, a loved one. But along with the destruction and hardship, residents also remember how communities came together to do what they could for each other. Townwide picnics were arranged to be sure all neighbors had access to food and clean water. Eventually, relief concerts were organized—Joey Leone garnered a great deal of support and participation for one he helped to organize in Killington, and statewide Vermont bands such as Phish and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals donated concerts to the cause.
And Vermonters got to work rebuilding.
A month after the storm, 84 of 118 closed sections of state highway and 28 of 34 bridges had been reopened, the state department of transportation reported.
“We’ll do the work and we’ll figure out how we’re paying for it, but we’re not waiting,” Sue Minter, deputy state secretary of transportation at the time, had told the New York Times.
From its start in the Caribbean, Irene claimed 49 lives, 41 of which occurred on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Damage estimates totaled $15.6 billion in the U.S., according to a report from the National Hurricane Center titled “Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Irene: Aug. 21–28, 2011.” That puts Irene as the seventh costliest hurricane in United States history, only behind Hurricane Andrew of 1992, Hurricane Ivan of 2004, hurricanes Wilma and Katrina of 2005, Hurricane Ike of 2008, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
This week, many area towns are gathering to remember the tragedy that the heavy rains and flooding caused here in Central Vermont; and also to celebrate the community spirit that helped us rebuild and recover. For more info on the storm as it unfolded, photos, rebuilding efforts and gatherings visit mountaintimes.info.
Photo by Jerry LeBlond
Rochester residents were the epitome of community spirit as they gathered to sing and play instruments in the wake of the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene in August, 2011. They gather Sunday to do reminisce, celebrate community, and do more of the same.