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Vermont not spared from Hurricane Irene

Jane Lindholm Aug 29, 2011

Vermont not spared from Hurricane Irene

Jane Lindholm Aug 29, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: As this last week of the month, you can neatly summarize the Irene news one of two different ways, depending on where you are. Less-than-expected damage along large portions of the Eastern seaboard: North Carolina up to say, southern Connecticut. Total losses in the Carolinas, for instance, could be less than $200 million. A big sum in absolute terms, nowhere near what was predicted.

Then you get deep into the reaches of New England — Vermont specifically — and people are using phrases like widespread damage and catastrophic. And that’s helping push the overall price tag up into the billions of dollars. From Vermont Public Radio, Jane Lindholm has more.

Jane Lindholm: Rainfall amounts topped seven inches in some Vermont communities, causing rivers to violently overflow their banks.

In the small town of Wilmington, Vt., bookstore owners Lisa Sullivan and Phil Taylor were preparing for minor flooding when the water started rising.

Phil Taylor: We went from trying to salvage all the books on the bottom shelf. And once we got to that point, we saw how fast the water was coming up and then we just had to open up the door to let the water in to equalize the pressure so that the building wouldn’t collapse.

Taylor guesses there’s more than $200,000 worth of inventory damage and $100,000 worth of damage to the building. He says several businesses are completely decimated.

Part of the problem is the way Vermont was developed, in valleys and along rivers. Gregory Sanford is the state archivist.

Gregory Sanford: Rivers, lakes and ponds were an economic asset, whether it was to drive a mill, be a way to get goods to your place or to a market.

And while those economic benefits served Vermont towns well, they’ve also made towns vulnerable to flooding, as much of the state discovered today.

Vermont governor Peter Shumlin spent the day in a helicopter, surveying the damage.

Peter Shumlin: We obviously have a lot of loss of property and infrastructure, roads, bridges. We have 250 roads in Vermont that are shut down.

Gov. Shumlin says it’s too soon to assess costs — the state is still in crisis mode.

Vermont already experienced severe flooding this spring along many of the same rivers and in Lake Champlain. That flooding cost more than $12 million. Early estimates suggest this event will far exceed those damages.

In Colchester, Vt., I’m Jane Lindholm for Marketplace.

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