Voices From the Flood
In the year since Tropical Storm Irene barreled through New England, Vermont continues to recover. The storm claimed lives and homes. Businesses, too. And in certain sections of the state, entire towns were cut off for days from assistance. But Vermont and Vermonters are resilient. Communities quickly banded together and today the state is back on its feet.
To mark the anniversary of Irene, Yankee is featuring the stories of some of the Vermonters affected by the storm. Theirs are stories of hardship, survival, and hope.
Of the many unsung heroes to surface during and after Tropical Storm Irene, town clerks played one of the most crucial roles in the recovery work. Perhaps no more so than Susan Haughwout, Wilmington, Vermont’s longtime town clerk who, with several other volunteers, raced to the Town Hall to save the town’s records from the floods that would end up devastating so much of the downtown.
For nearly two hours, in the midst of heavy rains and rising river waters, the crew schlepped documents from the town hall’s first floor vault to the building’s second floor, piling up office chairs with boxes and then rolling them on to an elevator. Not everything was saved of course, but by her own estimate, Haughwout, who was forced to abandon her car and escape to safety, along with her group saved some 95 percent of the town’s records.
“All I did was worry,” Haughwout says of the work. “And for once my worrying paid off because I knew something had to be done and I made the decision to go get it done. I called a bunch of people to help me. If they hadn’t come, this wouldn’t have happened.” And the consequences for that, she says, would have been detrimental to the town. “The buying and selling and financing of real estate would have come to a halt. If you can’t provide title, you can’t do business. You gotta have it. These are critical documents for the economy of any Vermont town.”
For more of Haughwout’s story in her own words, click on the link below.
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George and Jan Knowles were part of the contingent. The retired South Newfane residents spent their first few days helping out neighbors before making their way to nearby Wilmington, one of the state’s hardest hit towns. The bulk of their hours were spent helping out Al and Suzanne Wurzberger, two longtime downtown business owners, who operate the 1836 Country Store as well as Norton House, a popular quilt shop. “They had a sign out asking for volunteers,” said George. “So we popped in and just asked, ‘What can we do?’
To hear more of their story, click on the link below.
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In November 1956 she and her husband, George, were just two weeks married at the time, when they moved into this 19th century Cape and started fixing the old place up. The work was considerable. For nearly 30 years the house, which sits just off Route 100 in Wilmington had largely sat untouched after an earlier natural disaster, the flood of 1927, had nearly taken it down. When the Crafts scooped it up, the property had no electricity, no running water, just a lot of potential. Together they refinished rooms, put on an addition, and made it the kind of cozy family home that would welcome three children, and later a growing lineup of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even after George’s passing in June 2004, Florence never entertained the thought of moving elsewhere.
Then came Tropical Storm Irene. After vacating her house the morning of the storm, Craft returned to a home that had withstood 35 inches of water. She didn’t have flood insurance and if she does move back in, it won’t be until spring, at the earliest. In mid-October, when I visited, Craft’s days were consumed with cleaning up a lifetime of memories.
“It’s quite a project,” she said softly. “I don’t know if it’s worth it.”
To hear more about Craft and what she’s contending with, click on the link below.
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“It was pretty awesome,” says Wheeler.
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When Irene hit, it hit the business hard, flooding Thomas’ pottery studio, and filling the mill’s basement with more than eight-feet of water before receding and leaving a wasteland of mud and silt. While the building’s upstairs shop rooms and store were saved, much of Shackleton’s lumber was ruined, as were a number of machines. Cost of the damage clocked in at well over six figures, with only a portion of it covered by flood insurance. Still, when we visited the Irish-born Shackleton in mid September, he seemed optimistic about his business’ ability to get back on its feet. Which it has. By late September, ShackletonThomas had reopened for business.