Heavy Rains Flood Central Vermont

July 13, 2007

Torrential rains pelted central Vermont on Wednesday, triggering flash flooding that washed out roads and inundated the city of Barre, where water ran up to 6 feet deep for a time.

Between 3 and 4 inches fell in the area Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service, which estimated it based on radar but had no precise rain gauge readings. The deluge caused rivers, streams and storm sewers to overflow, sending water coursing down streets, into basements and up around cars.

By about 8:30 p.m., waters had receded enough in Barre to allow residents and shopkeepers to appear downtown, using brooms and shovels to clear mud from the fronts of stores and properties.

“Look at my shop. It’s all water,” said Loan Vu, owner of the Paris Nails salon on North Main Street, who was sweeping mud and water out of her store.

She had locked up when the shop door opened unexpectedly, she said. “Then the water opened the door and came in by itself.”

Vu estimated the water was 10 inches deep in her shop and two feet deep in the street outside.

Street flooding was reported in Hardwick, Woodbury, Randolph and Bethel. The Town of Berlin opened a shelter at the Berlin Town School, and two mobile home parks were evacuated, according to Mark Bosma, a spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management.

In Williamstown, up to 75 people were moved to the Williamstown High School by authorities fearing a dam breach.

But the worst of it was in Barre, where the Stevens Branch of the Winooski River overflowed its banks, forcing the closing of portions of Route 302.

Two sections of Route 302 linking Barre and state capital Montpelier were completely washed out and will have to be rebuilt, according to emergency personnel at the scene.

“There were cars that were completely underwater,” said firefighter Doug Crowningshield.

At The Times Argus newspaper, floodwaters engulfed the parking lot, but the paper planned to publish anyway.

“We were sealed in, our road closed,” said Editor Sue Allen. “It was under about 3 feet of water, and our cars in the parking lot had water halfway up the doors. Our reporters were reporting from out in the field because they couldn’t get into the office to write their stories.”

Route 14 in Woodbury was closed for a time due to high water there, with authorities rerouting traffic through neighboring Cabot, a half-hour detour.

In Williamstown, Vermont state troopers were keeping an eye on a dam that was causing concern and some families were evacuated downstream.

Barre Police evacuated residents living in low-lying areas to the Barre Outdoor Recreation Center ice rink on a hill above downtown, where about a dozen people were expected to spend the night.

Granite Street resident Lynn Thayer, 17, said water “was up to the car windows in front of our house. All of a sudden we looked out and there were police telling us we had to get out.”

Lorna Garland, 41, was among a dozen members of a women’s group meeting at the Salvation Army store on North Main Street. She said they decided at one point it was unsafe to leave the building, which was surrounded by water. They began praying, and the water receded about 20 minutes later.

Two hours after the worst of the flooding, Summer Street in Barre, which parallels the main street through town, remained closed. An adjacent parking lot had partially collapsed, and officials worried the street might have been undermined.

The Stevens Branch feeds the Winooski River, a normally placid and shallow waterway in summer, which became a roiling brown torrent choked with tree branches Wednesday as it flowed through Montpelier. No flooding was reported in the capital.

The highest rain totals for the day were reported in Brookfield (3.74 inches), North Calais (4.4) and Randolph Center (3.79), according to the National Weather Service.

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