Vermont in the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene

Our son Alex came home from Green Mountain College, located in Poultney, Vermont, during the long Labor Day weekend. He was under the misguided assumption that he would be able to return to the college by public transportation. Only a week after Hurricane Irene had struck that simply was not the case. Typically what is a four hour drive each way, and a drive I am capable of accomplishing both ways in one day, took closer to eight hours each way, over a two day stretch, because of the impassable roads and torrential rain.

The grim reality of mile after mile of the mass destruction created by wind and water was overwhelming. The drive was harrowing and at every turn I imagined our lives ending in a violent crash. Based on road closing notifications I thought we had pre-navigated a safe route; west on Route 2 across Massachusetts and then north on 22 through eastern New York. Not all road closings had been posted! GPS was of no help at all as it is only capable of rerouting travelers to the shortest route and for much of the drive over desolate backcountry roads cell phone service was unavailable. We made it to the college at around 7:30pm. With the continuing downpour and utter loss as to how to navigate home in the dark I found a lovely inn (with the help of a local convenience store attendant) further down the highway in Fairhaven. A true beacon in the storm, The Maplewood Inn, was closed for business after the long weekend. Paul, the proprietor, was kind enough to answer my knock and open his door. After a night’s rest and fabulous home cooked breakfast prepared by Paul, I headed home, with driving directions thoughtfully supplied by Paul, based on the Vermont Transportation Department’s latest road closings. Unfortunately, additional detours had been created from the previous day’s storms.

Driving the back roads through the Vermont countryside would at some point in the future be a beautiful experience and I very much look forward to revisiting these roadways. Route 140 takes you winding through scenic farmland and the lushly gorgeous Green Mountains. Tuesday however it was drizzling rain and if you were not paying close attention every single second, your car could easily plunge down a ravine as huge chunks of road are washed away, with only orange cones denoting the lack of pavement. Thank goodness for comic relief–I nearly drove smack into a road closed sign and a friendly minister pulled up beside my car, asking me directions! We decided to venture the closed road only to come across a delivery truck stopped where the road had vanished. Fortunately, the truck driver was familiar with the area and he gave us excellent directions to get to the main highway. Both the clergyman and I followed him convoy-style to the highway. Thank goodness for blessings, small and large.

Mile upon mile of decimated cornfields

As the rain began to clear, I was overcome with a desire to photograph the unfolding landscape, but for the most part it really wasn’t safe to stop along the road. Because of the recent rainfall from tropical storm Katia, the rivers and streams were again frightfully swollen. I also did not want to obtrude in the face of people’s tragedies or get in the way of the National Guard and relief workers. As desperate as I was to find Interstate 91, I turned off the road into what appeared to be a vacant parking lot to stretch my legs, outside the town of Chester. It wasn’t a parking lot any longer. The raging river that ran alongside the lot and fields had ravaged the adjacent cornfield, great swaths of pavement had buckled, and the chain link fencing was a twisted and contorted mass of metal.

Parking lot

Click the above panorama to see full size. The flattened corn stalks on the left shows the flood’s path through the cornfield.

The damage to Vermont’s developing agriculture industry is beyond measure. Because of the fear of microbial contamination, every bit of fruit, vegetable, corn, and soybean touched by flood water has to be destroyed, and any crops growing below ground will, on a case by case basis, be examined for viability. Many of the organic farmers will have to be recertified (a lengthy process) and many fields will never again be used for agriculture because of the gargantuan boulders and prodigious stone debris deposited by the flood. I saw half-houses along river banks, the other half having been torn away, thousands of great trees with colossal and unwieldy root balls laying across riverbeds, streams, and alongside highways, and miles and miles of impassable roads. The photos were taken from a single site and are only mildly representative of the destruction in the wake of Irene.

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