Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vermont Sadness A Year After Irene

It's been a year since Hurricane Irene trashed Vermont. In just a day, hundreds of homes drowned in floods that came on so suddenly that some people didn't have time to flee. Businesses drowned, or simply washed away that Sunday.
This mobile home near Saxtons River, Vt.
lies in ruins in August, 2012, a year after Irene.

Big chunks of Vermont's road network fragmented into short stretches of pavement interspersed with yawning canyons where culverts and bridges had been the day before.

At least five Vermonters died in Irene's onslaught on August 28, 2011. Perhaps only the Great Flood of 1927 was a worse disaster for the Green Mountain State.

The post-Irene cleanup went fast. Armies of volunteers swarmed swamped neighborhoods, doing their best to put the pieces back together. The state's road crews fixed the roads in a flash. Most were paved and smooth by the fall foliage tourism season, which came only a little over a month after Irene.

Now, if you drive through the towns hit hardest by Irene, you could almost believe the disaster never happened.
A sad sign on a flood damaged house near Plymouth, Vermont
in a photo taken about a year after Hurricane Irene
wrecked the home.

What were mud caked streets last August are tidy lanes, with perfect flowers in perfect planters on perfect sidewalks in front of perfect gift shops which greet, well, imperfect but still very welcomed tourists.

Restaurants are open and look like they're thriving. Houses have been repaired. Fresh white paint gleams on clapboards. Homeowners have long since finished cleaning muck from the basement and gutting soggy rooms. They are now busy tending neatly trimmed lawns and foisting bumper crops of zucchini from their gardens onto their neighbors.

This sign was still up at a wrecked farmstand
near Plymouth, Vermont in August, 2012, nearly
a year after Irene.

It's jarring when you turn a corner and see it. The wreckage of the epic flood. It's still there in spots.  A sagging tilted houses amid a sea of gravel, left just as they were the minute the water receded after the rains of August 28, 2011 ended. Twisted metal knotted around dead trees, representing what was once somebody's mobile home. A shed deposited upside down in the middle of a field.

These scenes are even more jarring than they were right after the storm because they seem so out of place amid the newly repaired villages and streets.

You wonder why the wreckage is still there.

And you know, as anyone opening the pages of Vermont's Burlington Free Press this morning can attest, the disaster continues. 

In Stockbridge, an old farmhouse still lies tilted and warped in a ditch where the rushing waters of Irene deposited it. The house became a widely photographed iconic image of Vermont's Irene disaster. The roofline of the house remains perfectly even. The shades in the unbroken second floor windows are closed, as if the occupant in the house has decided to take an afternoon nap. But the bottom of the house is bowed out,, and the whole structure tilts precariously, as if trying to outdo the Tower of Pisa.
This house in Stockbridge, Vermont, became an
iconic image after the Hurricane Irene disaster
last year. This photo was taken two weeks ago, nearly
a year after Irene.

Poignant signs are still attached to some wrecked properties. "Please keep out. Irene already robbed us" is spray painted on a boarded up house window near Plymouth, Vermont. The scrawl hints at creepy opportunists who used a person's tragedy to steal from them and just make things worse.

Another sign invited people to take pictures of the wreckage. Maybe that would help them gain attention, and maybe help the rebuild. A year after the storm, they so far haven't rebuilt.

Another hurricane is bearing down on the United States as I write this. New Orleans, again. It's seven years since Katrina wrecked New Orleans and they still haven't fully recovered.

Nobody deserves a disaster, to lose their homes, their livlihood, their sense of place. Let's hope that if it happens, nobody stays in limbo for a long time afterwards, like victims of Katrina, or a few unlucky people in Vermont who were blindsided by an ugly rainstorm named Irene.

No comments:

Post a Comment