View of the catastrophic failure of U.S. Route 7 south of Rutland near the Cold River.
Tropical Storm Irene brought widespread devastation to roads, bridges, private property and utility systems, presenting enormous challenges but also bringing out the best in many Vermonters. Following are several stories from the storm.
In Taftsville, on the edge of Woodstock, the Ottauquechee River hammered part of a CVPS hydro station building and devastated controls for local distribution and transmission lines.
“The upstream wall of the powerhouse was washed away, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Greg White, CVPS’s director of engineering and system operations. “There is significant water damage. We’ll have to replace equipment and rebuild it.
“And this story is being replayed in several substations, including the Brownsville Sub, which serves the West Windsor and Reading areas, Rochester Sub, which serves Rochester, and the Windsor Sub, which serves Windsor and Weathersfield.
“The true force of nature has been displayed, and it is enormous,” White said.
Dave Miller, operations supervisor in CVPS’s Brattleboro office, said the loss of roads in Windham County presented enormous frustration for workers.
“‘We can’t get there from here’ is the new catchphrase,” Miller said. “It’s very frustrating. The guys want to get everyone back on as quickly as they can, but they simply can’t get to them because the roads are gone.”
In some cases, workers became trapped as high water isolated them in the field. A tree crew working Sunday on Hogback Mountain got trapped after washouts and high water cut off all escape routes, and a utility worker in Shrewsbury was also stranded when surrounding roads were washed away.
Two workers spent the night with customers after high water prevented them from leaving the area where they had been working. “That’s Vermont for you,” spokesman Steve Costello said. “Disasters seem to bring out the best in people here.”
Jeremy Baker, 40, a lifelong Vermonter, said the scope of the damage left him shaken.
Baker’s role in CVPS' storm planning and recovery gives him a broad overview of the problems on the electrical system and with roads and bridges. He played a key role in the 2007 Nor’icane recovery, major ice storms and snow and wind events, but nothing compared to the intensity of damage he’s seen since Sunday.
“It’s hard to wrap my head around the scale of the damage,” Baker said. “I have never seen anything like this, even on a localized level. To see the damage reports in county after county and town after town, it’s mind-boggling.”
While utility crews are focused on the big picture and the nuts and bolts of power restoration, the impacts of the storm on individual customers is not lost on employees.
Tim Upton, CVPS’s environmental affairs manager, said photos and film clips of customers’ flooded and destroyed homes affected him in ways he hadn’t expected.
“On one hand, we’re completely focused on restoring power, but at the same time you’re seeing all kinds of sad situations, and you realize that for many Vermonters, being without service is the least of their problems,” Upton said. “Your heart breaks for these people.”
While CVPS’s orange and white trucks are the most visible aspect of the restoration effort, behind the scene a logistical operation worthy of the military is in place to support field workers.
In fact, retired Vermont National Guard General Matt McCoy is CVPS’s logistics chief. McCoy and his team are responsible for feeding, housing and providing materials to hundreds of contract workers and utility staff during the restoration effort.
Working out CVPS’s Systems building on Post Road in Rutland, the team oversees field food deliveries, hotel rooms and supplies – all for field staff that are constantly on the move, often in places inaccessible from the outside.