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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Helicopter and boat rescues underway across a devastated Vermont


A tow truck retrieves a vehicle after floodwaters began to recede in Barre, Vt., on Tuesday, July 11, 2023. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times)

By Jenna Russell, Siobhan Neela-Stock, Judson Jones, Anna Betts and Daniel Victor


Downtown streets in Vermont’s capital city of Montpelier remained underwater on Tuesday and rescuers tried to reach people stranded in remote mountain towns after days of heavy rain drove rivers across the region to some of their highest levels on record.


At least 117 people across Vermont had been rescued from flooded cars and homes by noon on Tuesday, officials said. But some people couldn’t be reached by boat, and the authorities said that helicopters were trying to airlift stranded residents from dangerous floodwaters.


“The devastation and flooding we’re experiencing across Vermont is historic and catastrophic,” Gov. Phil Scott said at a news conference, adding, “This is nowhere near over.”


Slow-moving storms inundated western New England and parts of New York with fast-moving floodwater on Sunday and Monday, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and stranding motorists on a closed Vermont interstate overnight. The rain was headed out of the Northeast on Tuesday, spreading flood conditions to Quebec.


“I think everyone’s in shock,” said Susan Calza, a longtime Montpelier resident who owns a small art gallery on Main Street and gathered with other residents on Tuesday morning at the edges of the flood zone. “Look at all these faces — no one’s talking.”


At least one person died from the flooding in New York state, and communities across the region were grappling with damage to roads, bridges, rail lines and private property. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for Vermont early on Tuesday, unlocking federal resources and disaster assistance.


City officials in Montpelier issued an emergency order overnight closing the downtown until at least noon on Tuesday, and extended that on Tuesday morning to at least 3 p.m. The Winooski River, which runs through Montpelier, reached more than a foot higher than it had in 2011 during Tropical Storm Irene — its second-highest crest on record, according to the National Weather Service.


William Fraser, the Montpelier city manager, said early Tuesday that the Wrightsville Dam was near capacity and could potentially spill into the North Branch River. “This has never happened since the dam was built so there is no precedent for potential damage,” he said, warning that a large amount of water could flow into the city which would “drastically add to the existing flood damage.”


New York’s Hudson Valley, which took the brunt of the storm system on Sunday, was still assessing the damage, although there were signs of normalcy. The Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line trains were to operate at least once an hour between Grand Central Terminal and Peekskill, officials said.

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