Area residents rally in face of storm: Friday’s flash flood through Monday’s state of emergency
By Katy Savage and Victoria Gaither
It began with isolated flashfloods and a mudslide in Killington Friday, July 7, but rains continued — and worsened — Sunday and Monday escalating to become a State of Emergency. Estimates of 5-12 inches of rain were reported with some downpours dropping 2-plus inches an hour. The resulting floods destroyed business, displaced residents and washed out roads.
Ludlow, perhaps the worst hit town in the region, remained inaccessible on Tuesday, July 11. Widespread flooding caused devastation to just about every business and several homes.
Ground beneath the train tracks washed out, leaving portions of the tracks hanging above the streets of Ludlow as businesses and plazas on Main Street along Route 103 were under about 5 feet of water and mud. The plaza where Du Jour restaurant, Java Baba’s, the post office, chamber of commerce info center and Tygart Mountain Sports are located and the plaza where Shaw’s Supermarket is, were among the worst off.
Locals estimated at least 3 feet of mud remained on Main Street Tuesday morning as excavators attempted to clean the mess under clearing skies.
“It’s apocalyptic,” resident Sammy Blanchette said. “It’s devastating. It’s like a scene all over again from Irene. There’s water everywhere.”
Business partners Andrew Molen and Troy Caruso, who own Fox Run Golf Course in addition to five restaurants and two hotels in Ludlow, were on vacation in the Hamptons when they got frantic phone calls to return home on Monday.
Their restaurant, Sam’s Steakhouse, on Route 103 had 7 feet of water flowing through it and was deemed “a complete loss.”
“The ice machine was ripped out of the wall,” Molen said.
They also lost half of Mr. Darcy’s restaurant and spent Tuesday morning power washing it in an attempt to prevent mold.
“To see a community that I have grown part of and grown to love devastated has been painful,” Molen said. “It’s more of a survival mode of trying to get through it.”
They were able to save Calcuttus’s Restaurant at Fox Run Golf Course by using sandbags. About a foot of water at Off The Rails restaurant started receding on Tuesday. One hole at the golf course was damaged but was expected to be repaired by Friday.
“It’s been pretty brutal,” Caruso said.
Caruso estimated the damage will cost about $2 million.
“We’re in for a long week, maybe even a long few months,” he said. “It’s crazy. I just got done finishing all the properties — lawns mowed, planting, everything — it’s like we’re starting all over again from negative zero.”
They were also concerned about their 180-190 employees.
“It’s more trying to figure out how we preserve their wellbeing,” Molen said.
Molen and Caruso were using food from the freezers to serve the community. They made about 100 breakfast sandwiches for police officers and town officials on Tuesday. They also invited people who were displaced to stay at their Fox Run Motel and Ludlow Village Inn, which sit on higher ground. The clubhouse was open for people in need of a shower.
“We’re just trying to feed these guys because there’s nothing open,” Caruso said.
The damages came just as the state wrapped up its final project from Tropical Storm Irene’s damages 12 years ago. About 8-11 inches of rain fell during Irene in August 2011, causing widespread devastation.
Ludlow Town Manager Brendan McNamara estimated the damage from this storm was far worse locally than it was in Irene.
“We’re pretty much isolated,” McNamara said.
The problem escalated when water came down from Okemo Mountain and washed away part of Route 103 around 4 a.m. Monday.
The owners of Benson’s Chevrolet on Route 103 in Ludlow moved about 100 vehicles to higher ground when water started rising to the car doors on Monday afternoon.
“We had a little bit of damage but were very fortunate,” Benson’s Chevrolet co-owner Kim Lampert said.
Glenn Heitsmith , the owner of the Timber Inn Motel on Route 103 in Ludlow, guessed there’s about half a million dollars in damages to his building and another $250,000 in damages to his home.
“It’s such a bad time here,” he said.
Heitsmith said nine of his 18 hotel rooms were ruined, including the utility room, which houses the furnace and washer and dryer.
The water was about 6 feet deep inside the inn on Monday.
“It definitely exceeds Irene by half a foot,” he said.
Heitsmith, like many, has barely recovered from Irene, and is still suffering the trials and tribulations learned in that storm. This was Heitsmith second flood since the 2011 tropical storm. He said Irene cost $640,000 in damages and his flood insurance policy only paid $352,000. His building flooded again in 2019, costing $180,000.
Heitsmith, who has owned his 1972 building since 1994, is an applicant for a federal buyout. He vented frustration, explaining it’s been three years since he applied, with no response from the federal government.
Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday he received disaster declarations for all 14 Vermont counties.
The state was treating the storm as “an all hands on deck response,” Scott said.
In addition to Ludlow, state officials said Londonderry and Weston were among those hardest hit.
A boil water notice was issued in Woodstock on Monday evening due to damage to an Aqueduct water line. Multiple businesses in Woodstock, including the Woodstock Inn, were closed. The Woodstock Farmers’ Market on the west side of town, which was hit hard by Irene, again appeared to be underwater.
Meanwhile, mudslides on Route 103 in Proctorsville and on Route 4 in Killington caused lasting road damage.
“We have not seen rainfall like this since Irene,” Scott said at a press conference on Monday. “In some places, it will surpass even that.”
As the rain continued to pound down, Scott said he was more concerned about this storm than he was about Irene.
“This is a long-term event, not like Irene,” Scott said Monday. “This is going to be particularly difficult for us with the long rain event that we’re going to experience.”
Fourteen swift water rescue teams, some of which were from Michigan, North Carolina and Connecticut, responded throughout the state. They rescued 19 people as of Monday morning by boat and 25 by evacuation, including some pets.
Scott said he learned from Irene, “There’s never enough (responders).”
In Ludlow, Heitsmith said a man was stranded in a truck in front of the Timber Inn around 4 p.m. Monday calling out for help until the water got so high he stood on top of a new hot tub that floated down the road from Knight Tubs and Spas.
“It was lodged in our juniper bushes,” Heitsmith said.
In Bridgewater, Annie Theis, whose apartment is by the Bridgewater Mill, woke up at 6:30 a.m. Monday to a pound on her door by the fire marshal telling everyone in the building to get out.
“We had enough time to get a bag packed and grab our animals and some supplies,” Theis said. “We secured our kayaks and tried to get to a friend’s house in Woodstock.”
An emergency shelter, which opened on Monday at the Grange Hall in Bridgewater, was evacuated to the Bridgewater Congregational Church on Monday evening as the Ottauquechee rose.
More than a dozen roads and four bridges were impacted in Bridgewater, which could take months to repair.
Despite the hardships, Scott was optimistic about the community response. He said at the press conference that he was one of the first to arrive in Bridgewater when Irene hit in 2011. “I was so impressed with the local community,” Scott said. “It’s not just the state response, it’s the local response. They were shut off from the entire world but they were taking care of it themselves.”
Scott knew Vermonters would rise to the occasion.
“Whether during Irene, Covid or other hardships, Vermonters have proven time and time again we’re willing and able to step up and help our neighbors,” Scott said at another press conference, Tuesday.