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Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont's Flash Floods, and How One Small State Saved Itself

Peggy Shinn

Publication Year: 2013

On August 28, 2011, after pounding the Caribbean and the U.S. Eastern seaboard for more than a week, Hurricane Irene finally made landfall in New Jersey. As the storm headed into New England, it was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm. And by Sunday afternoon, national news outlets were giving postmortems on the damage. Except for some flooding in low-lying areas, New York City--Irene's biggest target--had escaped its worst-case scenario. Story over.

But the story wasn't over. As Irene's eye drifted north, its bands of heavy rains twisted westward over Vermont's Green Mountains. The mountains forced these bands upward, wringing the rain out of them like water from a sponge. Streams and rivers were transformed into torrents of brown water and debris, gouging mountainsides, reshaping valleys, washing out roads, pulling apart bridges, and carrying away homes, livestock, and automobiles. For weeks, mountain towns were isolated, with no way in or out, and thousands of people were left homeless. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, it fell on the shoulders of ordinary Vermonters to help victims and rebuild the state.

Deluge is the complete story of the floods, the rescue, and the recovery, as seen through the eyes of the people who lived through them: Wilmington's Lisa Sullivan, whose bookstore was flooded, and town clerk Susie Haughwout, who saved the town records; Tracy Payne, who lost her home in Jamaica--everything in it, and the land on which it sat; Geo Honigford in South Royalton, who lost his crops, but put his own mess on hold to help others in the town; the men who put U.S. Route 4 back together at breakneck speed; and the entire village of Pittsfield, completely isolated after the storm, and its inspirational story of real community.

Published by: University Press of New England


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Every book has a story behind it. The idea for this book came as I rode my mountain bike home from Pittsfield, Vermont, at the end of August 2011. And it wasn’t a pleasure ride. ...

Part I: The Storm

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1 | Flash Flood

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pp. 3-8

From the moment they saw the cute house in Pittsfield, Vermont, Heather Grev and Jeremy “Jack” Livesey knew they wanted to live there. It was a classic little square house with two stories, white clapboards, and a green tin roof—the kind of picture-perfect house a child might draw. ...

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2 | Irene's Trip to Vermont

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pp. 9-21

Hurricane Irene was born on August 15, 2011, a tropical wave in the warm Atlantic waters off the west coast of Africa. As the wave tracked west at about twenty miles per hour along a line just north of the equator, it was a well-defined weather disturbance on satellite images. ...

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3 | Not Just a Rainstorm

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pp. 22-37

On the morning of Sunday, August 28, Tropical Storm Irene seemed to many in Vermont like an overblown rainstorm. Compared with summer thunderstorms, which can dump several inches of rain in a couple of hours (on July 8, 1914, for example, eight to twelve inches of rain fell in Jericho, Vermont, ...

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4 | All Hell Breaks Loose

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pp. 38-54

When it comes to natural disasters, Vermont is fairly lucky. The state experiences very few tornadoes. Winds rarely top fifty miles per hour in the valleys. Summertime temperatures infrequently hit 100 degrees. And earthquakes—if they are felt—do little more than rattle the china cabinet. ...

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5 | Unheralded Devastation

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pp. 55-66

As Irene pummeled Vermont, towns from Bennington and Brattleboro in the south to Waterbury in the north saw their worst flooding since 1927—or in southeastern Vermont, since 1938. Throughout the state, official reports showed that Irene had unleashed more than seven inches of rain, ...

Part II: The Rescue

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6 | You Can't Get There From Here

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pp. 69-97

Vermonters awoke Monday morning—if they had slept at all— to a calm blue sky. It was as if Mother Nature were trying to make up for her foul temper the previous day when, in a full-on rage, she had gouged her nails into the landscape and swiped her arms across the furnishings. ...

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7 | Digging Out

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pp. 98-109

By virtue of topography, roads in Vermont tend to follow river valleys, particularly in the mountains. The roads often follow ancient routes first cut by wildlife, then Native Americans and the early Colonial and British military. When those groups needed to traverse the mountains, they sought the easiest grade into the steep terrain, ...

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8 | Vermont Ingenuity and Volunteerism

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pp. 110-128

By Tuesday, government officials had a better sense of the state of the state. And the numbers were staggering. At least a portion of every highway in Vermont, except for I-89 and I-91, was closed—with a total of 146 separate state road segments washed out or collapsed, and 531 total miles (a quarter of the network) closed. ...

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9 | Getting Around

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pp. 129-143

By Wednesday morning, people living in twelve of the thirteen isolated towns had an escape route. Not for high-speed traffic: many of the repaired roads were dirt and only one lane wide, with steep drop-offs on at least one side. Locals were advised that the roads were for emergency crews only, ...

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10 | Onward

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pp. 144-170

When outside help reached Montpelier after the 1927 flood, Vermont governor John E. Weeks reportedly said, “Vermont can take care of its own” (though according to D. P. and N. R. Clifford, in their book “The Troubled Roar of the Waters”: Vermont in Flood and Recovery, that phrase did not become part of flood lore until well after 1927). ...

Part III: The Recovery

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11 | Vermont was Lucky

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pp. 173-183

In some ways, Vermont was lucky. Long before Hurricane Irene swirled into the state, the storm’s winds had lost their punch, and she was downgraded to a tropical storm. Trees came down, but wind did not cause the damage many had feared it would. Also, the storm could have hit on a weekday, when people were at work in far-off towns, ...

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12 | The Human Toll

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pp. 184-206

Wallace Stegner once said that he was attracted to Vermont because “it heals.” A Pulitzer Prize–winning author known as the “dean of Western writers,” Stegner grew up in Montana, Utah, and Saskatchewan, and taught writing at Stanford University in California for twenty-six years. ...

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pp. 207-208

This book was made possible thanks to the scores of Vermonters who were willing to share their lives and Irene experiences, often in heartbreaking detail. Most people mentioned in this book did not want to be singled out for any heroics, and across the board, they all would much rather have continued working than talk about their work. ...


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pp. 224-239


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pp. 209-212


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pp. 213-216

A Note from the Publisher

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pp. 248-249

E-ISBN-13: 9781611684049
E-ISBN-10: 1611684048
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611683189

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 855503058
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Deluge

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Subject Headings

  • Hurricane Irene, 2011.
  • Disaster relief -- Vermont.
  • Hurricane damage -- Vermont.
  • Floods -- Vermont.
  • Vermont -- History, Local.
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