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Vermont still faces massive clean-up from Irene

One week after the devastation of Hurricane Irene, residents of Vermont and New Hampshire are still facing massive clean-up efforts. And the reality is setting in, that their neighbors may provide the best hope for relief.

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Vermonters have made some major progress in cleaning up from the historic flooding of Hurricane Irene. At Killington Resort, where massive floodwaters knocked the K-1 Lodge’s Superstar Pub off its foundations, classes were able to begin at the Woodstock Union Middle School/High School on Sept. 6, 2011, and limited bus service between the towns of Killington and Rutland had also been restored.

“Killington Resort continues to repair and clean up base lodges, roads, lodging properties, snowmaking pump houses and water damage brought by tropical storm Irene,” a press release from the ski area noted. “The Command Center, located at the Killington Fire and Rescue Station, continues to ensure food, water, shelter and medical needs and prescription refills are provided for residents in surrounding areas.” 

The town of Killington worked with the Rutland County Sheriffs to organize police escorted caravans in and out of Killington to Bridgewater beginning on Sept. 3. And Killington Resort was offering temporary housing at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel for local residents in Killington, Pittsfield, Bridgewater and Mendon who either lost their home or whose home was deemed uninhabitable due to damage from tropical storm Irene for up to one week.

“Most of our infrastructure received only minor damage,” said Chris Nyberg, president and general manager for Killington Resort, “Right now, we are most concerned about our community and employees and we will continue to assist those in need.” 

Mount Snow and Stratton were also providing free lodging for families displaced in the surrounding villages. And Okemo pulled together a concert event to benefit the local community. 

As the restoration process continues, all special events at Killington Resort and Pico Mountain have been cancelled or postponed through September 18. “Mountain biking is closed for the season so we can maximize our efforts cleaning and restoring mountain facilities and infrastructure for the winter season,” said Jeff Temple, director of mountain operations for Killington. “In addition, we are working on a number of summer capital improvement projects that we need to complete.” 

As local government struggled to respond to the magnitude of the disaster, some locals began to take matters into their own hands. Backcountry Magazine Editor Adam Howard, who is also a Vermont State representative, was so inundated with people asking how they could help, that he ended up organizing a food drive for the town of Bennington, which was hit particularly hard by the floods.

“I was talking to a colleague in Bennington on Wednesday (Aug. 31), and he said they were desperate for food,” Howard told SNEWS®. “So I started to put the word out for a food drive, and by Friday we had nearly 3.5 tons of food and $4,000 in checks.” 

Howard said businesses and locals in his hometown of Jeffersonville and other local communities contributed, and that Backcountry’s Height of Land publishing offices were filled with fresh produce and canned goods. Robo calls from the local schools to parents produced even more donations, and by September 3, there were enough boxes of perishable and non-perishable goods to fill an enclosed trailer and a dump truck.

“It really was a grassroots effort, but that’s the way it’s been all across the state,” Howard said. “Our emergency management agency got wiped out in the flood, and there weren’t enough signs or markers to close all of the roads, so people were just out there doing it themselves with home blockades and fences and sticks.” 

That Vermont community spirit was also lauded by Killington Mountain School Communications Coordinator Kevin Broderick in a letter to students announcing that classes would start on Sept. 12: “Those who have suffered loss are helping those who have suffered greater loss. People are opening their businesses, homes and wallets to rebuild and to set a community back on its feet,” Broderick wrote. “Much the same is happening in other towns across the state–in isolated pockets, as well as in urban areas of commerce and community. Vermont will rebuild, is rebuilding as I write this, and welcomes the world back to our hills as a destination and place of refuge and retreat.”

Still, it’s going to be a long road back for Vermont, as well as for other states damaged by the storm. In Lincoln, N.H., where more than 10 inches of rain fell during the storm, the damaged Loon Mountain Resort bridge, which provides access to the resort from Route 112/The Kancamagus Highway, will be replaced by temporary bridges until the main bridge can be repaired. 

A temporary pedestrian bridge will be in place by mid September, in time for the New Hampshire Highland Games. After the Highland Games, the pedestrian bridge will be removed and will be replaced by a temporary two-lane bridge to accommodate vehicular traffic. This bridge will be in place prior to the beginning of Loon’s winter ski season and will remain in place until after the season ends.

And as Howard said, even by next spring, people might still be looking for help. “The reality is that FEMA is broke,” he said. “Their budget is already spent for the year, and there are people in the Midwest who were hit by the tornadoes who are still waiting for relief. There are a lot of people here who don’t have flood insurance and who are going to lose their homes and their businesses. The next effort is rebuilding homes, and that has yet to start.” —Peter Kray

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