Against the backdrop of the still-standing covered bridge in Waitsfield, one man started by picking up a single brick from the debris in Bridge Street at 6 a.m. the morning after Hurricane Irene hit The Valley.
Others followed, picking up the bricks that once made up the sidewalk in front of The Green Cup Restaurant, stacking them neatly on the sidewalk. Creating order out of the chaos quickly became the priority as people realized the extent of the flooding in Waitsfield, Moretown, Fayston and Warren.
Within hours hundreds arrived with mud boots, gloves, bleach, shovels and more to begin the massive clean-up that continues at press time on August 31. Those who can’t wield a shovel have been cooking for volunteers and caring for kids and animals
Volunteers are at farms, homes and businesses from the north to the south with dumpsters and dust as backdrops. A Mad-River-Valley-Hurricane-Irene Facebook page quickly became a central organizing tool for the organic uprising of people who need help and people who can provide help.
That led to the creation of a Mad River Valley Hurricane Relief headquarters at the Masonic Lodge in Waitsfield Village where needs and volunteers can be organized. It will be staffed seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Irene roared through on Sunday, first with steadily increasing rains and later with winds. Rainfall estimated ranged from 6.45 inches at a measuring gauge on Waitsfield Common Road to 5.7 inches on the Center Fayston Road. The flooding in Vermont either equals or rivals the flood of 1927 depending on which stream gauge is used. Flood stage at the Moretown gauge of the Mad River is nine feet. Sunday, the water crested at 19.06 feet which is just shy of the 19.4 feet in 1927. Some reports have the bridge cresting one-eighth of an inch higher than 1927.
Warren Village was flooded as was Waitsfield Village and Moretown Village. Reports of eight feet of water in Moretown Village were received late Sunday night. In Waitsfield, Bridge Street was severely inundated, destroying one building and causing immeasurable damage to MINT, MRVTV, The Green Cup, Liz Lovely’s not-yet-opened-retail sweet shop and Cheap Thrills. The Artisans’ Gallery and the Bridge Street Emporium were also damaged. Tracks at the Pitcher Inn in Warren was inundated, a home on the North Fayston Road was destroyed and many, many homes in Moretown are severely impact. The Moretown School, post office and town clerks offices are badly damaged. (See town by town, business by business stories inside).
After a second full day of cleanup, people flocked to the Big Picture in Waitsfield on Tuesday night for updated reports from select board members in each town.
Fayston Select Board member Jared Cadwell said he was, “Simply amazed and so grateful for all of our efforts.”
Cadwell said the damage to Fayston’s infrastructure was “thankfully, relatively minor;” many of the town’s dirt and class III roads were washed out and reduced to a single lane of traffic. German Flats Road took a major hit, Cadwell said, from the Slidebrook and Chase Brook watersheds.
Approximately three-quarters of a mile of the road was washed out causing closures on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The road was reduced to single lane traffic and as of now is passable by two lanes. Road crews used a combination of gravel and pavement to restore the integrity of the road.
Cadwell said the road will get a thin layer of pavement to sustain it through this winter; the town will proceed with the original plan to repave the road completely this spring.
Waitsfield Select Board chair Kate Williams said a state of emergency was declared and said that Bridge Street, “Waitsfield’s beating heart,” has experienced the “worst of times, and the best of times” and that the support of volunteers and highway department members has been “incredibly heartening.”
Waitsfield Select Board member Sal Spinosa is serving as incident commander, part of a model required by Vermont Emergency Management, to organize repair efforts. “Once the model was in place, I realized a lot of the work had already been done,” Spinosa said, including repairing a section of Tremblay Road where an undersized culvert caused the road to rupture, leaving a 12- foot gaping hole in the road.
All of Waitsfield’s roads, with the exception of Bridge Street have been reopened. (See update on Covered Bridges inside.)
Warren’s covered bridge remains closed until an engineer inspects it, according to select board chair Andy Cunningham; Flat Iron Road was washed out leaving it open to single lane traffic. Cunningham said the state has already inspected the Kingsbury Bridge after the river went up and over it. The bridge is due to close in April anyway; a temporary bridge will be installed while it is replaced. Cunningham said 98 percent of the village septic system is back online.
Moretown Select Board chair John Hoogenboom said that the Mad River crested at one-eighth of an inch higher than it did in the flood of 1927; the bridge at the bottom of the Moretown Common Road remains closed. The only local road that is impassable is the Moretown Mountain Road to Northfield. The Moretown Elementary School remains closed until further notice.
Hoogenboom said he is “very concerned about contamination” after several oil and propane tanks ruptured and floated down the river. Moretown remains under a boil water order and drinking water is available at the Town Hall. There is a parking ban on all of Route 100B and downtown traffic is restricted to local residents and essential services.