MONTPELIER-For many central Vermont residents, Friday, May 27, 2011, is a date that will live in infamy.
As if flooding in the Champlain Valley region earlier in the month wasn't enough to test the resolve of local residents, last Friday's violent thunderstorms in the state's capital region pushed some areas untouched by earlier spring flooding into crisis mode.
During the early morning hours of May 27, a series of powerful, tropical-like thunderstorms moved through Vermont's mid section. The ensuing heavy rain water, falling and accelerated downslope by steep, narrow mountain valley walls, created the flash flood emergency. The Winooski River and its feeder streams quickly reached flood levels.
Many owners of homes, farms and businesses in the greater Montpelier, Barre, Waterbury area-especially those in the Winooski River Valley-awoke May 27 to rising water and evacuations.
In the capital city of Montpelier, the municipal wastewater treatment plant was flooded and pollutants escaped into floodwater May 27. Montpelier officials asked residents and those working in the city to practice "extreme water conservation" by avoiding drinking tap water.
State officials also issued warnings to minimize contact with floodwater because of pollutants from the wastewater plant as well as fuels and fertilizers that entered waterways during the flood.
On May 27, state offices in Caledonia, Orange, and Washington counties were closed; many reopened last week.
On June 2, over 160 flood victims who had just experienced the worst Memorial Day holiday weekend in their memories, gathered at the Barre Auditorium. The survivors were there to learn what assistance was available in order to find new, dry shelter. Vermont Emergency Management and American Red Cross officials were on hand to help and collect names. Fortunately, no flood-related deaths were reported at press time.
According to Mark Bosma, spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management, "state employees who were affected by the reduced workforce status during this period, did so without loss of pay or benefits. All employees designated as essential personnel for reduced workforce situations including Corrections, Public Safety, Institutions and Transportation Maintenance reported for work as normally expected."
Bosma had his hands full May 27 answering questions from an anxious public. A temporary communications center was located at Barre City Hall. Several news reporters were on hand to receive updates on what roads around the capital area were open or closed.
In addition to flooded buildings, the state faced damaged roads from Waterbury to Barre.
"Residents are urged to use extreme caution and patience while navigating the roadways in and around affected areas," Bosma said. "Over the coming days and weeks crews will be working on affected areas, some delays and detours are possible."
By June 1, downtown Montpelier and Barre were open again, but numerous busineeses remained closed.
Vermont Emergency Management posted the following capital-region damaged roads at press time:
Coburn Road: Closed to through traffic; safe for residential one-way use; very rough on the Vermont Route 14 side
Clark Road: Closed to through traffic; safe for residential traffic from Barre Town side with dead end just beyond Pickel residence; no access from East Hill due to complete road washout at first culvert; this culvert needs a complete hydraulic study.
Hammett Hill Road: Closed to through traffic; the road is safe for residential one-way use only but proceed with extreme caution; the road is extremely hazardous near Vermont Route 14.
Kelton Road: Closed to through traffic; safe for one-way residential use only; proceed with caution.
Quaker Road: Open; one lane open only; proceed with caution.
Brazier Road: Closed to through traffic; safe for residential use from Towne Hill Road to washout and from Center Road to washout; proceed with extreme caution.
Muddy Brook Road: Closed until further notice.
In addition to property damage, the Vermont Geological Survey announced that capital-region residents should keep an eye open for landslides.
According to Vermont State Geologist Laurence Becker, "local residents need to be aware of these flood-related activities-small landslides, cracks in the ground, or any other unusual ground conditions that were not previously there."
Becker said there are other things to look for, too.
"Look for changes in landscape and water drainage or new cracks in foundations and sidewalks," he said. "Watch the patterns of storm-water drainage on slopes near your home or business, and note especially the places where runoff water converges, increasing flow over soil-covered slopes. Watch the hillsides around your home or business for signs of land movement, such as small landslides or debris flows or progressively tilting trees."
Bosma said cleanup is already underway in several communities in and around Montpelier, however, the region is still in an emergency zone. Sightseers are asked to keep out of flood-affected areas.
"Gov. Peter Shumlin sent a formal request to President Barack Obama for a disaster declaration," he said. "The process of approving such a request can take one week to several weeks. Vermont Emergency Management is working with the governor to submit an addendum to the state's earlier flood request to include last Friday's storms."
To be approved, the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA must agree that the flooding is part of the same weather pattern that caused previous floods, Bosma noted.
Bosma also said FEMA must agree that saturated ground conditions are a result of soaking rains over the past month.
"If FEMA declines that request Vermont will begin the process of obtaining a separate disaster declaration for this week's event," he noted. "Either way, communities and homeowners should call 2-1-1 to report damage to their property."