Vermont Covered Bridges Lost as Irene Brings Historic Flood to New England

With some of Vermont’s iconic covered bridges washed away, 250 roads closed and a fatality, Governor Peter Shumlin said the damage brought by Hurricane Irene is the worst in 75 years.

“Irene just deluged us with extraordinary rain,” Shumlin said on the Weather Channel today. “It’s the worst flooding we’ve seen in 75 years, perhaps ever.”

Buildings were flooded and streets left underwater in many of the state’s population centers including Montpelier, the capital, he said.

President Barack Obama declared an emergency in Vermont today allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts, according to a statement.

A 21-year-old woman died in the Deerfield River in the town of Wilmington. Police recovered her body but are not releasing her name, Vermont Public Radio said.

The state’s emergency command center in Waterbury was overcome by flooding from the Winooski River and had to be moved to Burlington late yesterday, he said. Roads in 41 towns were washed out or flooded, including parts of several stretches of U.S. 5 and U.S. 7, which run the length of the state from the Massachusetts border to Canada, according to the Vermont Emergency Management Division’s website.

Crazy Rain

One covered bridge in Rockingham, 35 miles from the Massachusetts border, was destroyed, while two other bridges in town were damaged, according to Alisha Beam, public safety dispatcher. Dozens in Rockingham were evacuated from their homes, she said.

“The rain was crazy,” said Beam, 27. “It started at about three or four in the morning Sunday and it just came down.”

Hundreds of residents were evacuated as a result of Irene and moved to 23 shelters statewide, Shumlin said on Vermont Public Radio.

Vermont lost two covered bridges in the storm, the one in Rockingham, known as the Bartonsville Bridge, and another in Woodstock, according to Joe Nelson, vice president of the Vermont Covered Bridge Society. That leaves about 100 still standing, he said.

About 47,000 homes and businesses were without power this morning, according to data collected by Vermont Electric Cooperative. The state has a population of about 625,000, according to U.S. census data.

Breaking Records

In Burlington, the state’s largest city, 3.38 inches of rain fell, setting a record for the day and surpassing a mark set in 1971, according to the National Weather Service. St. Johnsbury, Vermont, also set a record of 4.83 inches, passing the old one also reached in 1971.

Otter Creek, in Center Rutland, Vermont, rose 13.66 feet to a record 17.21 feet, breaking the old one of 13.45 feet set by the September Hurricane of 1938.

“For many of the area rivers it exceeded the 27 flood and by extension the Hurricane of 1938,” said Andrew Loconto, a weather service meteorologist in South Burlington, Vermont. “It was definitely a historic event up here.”

The river gauge on the Dog River in Northfield Falls was at 1.1 feet yesterday at 7:45 a.m. and rose to 12.26 feet by 4:30 p.m., according to the weather service. The gauge stopped recording information at that point.

Loconto said it’s possible the gauges stopped recording information because they “may have just floated away.”

The White River at West Hartford, Vermont, rose 16.47 feet by 7:30 p.m. yesterday, the last information available. The highest crest measured was 20.67 feet, which surpasses both a flood in November 1927 and the Hurricane of 1938, according to the weather service.

Vermont’s 1927 flood followed 9 inches of rain, which killed 85 people and left 9,000 homeless, according to a Vermont Historical Society website.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Moroney in Boston at tmorrone@bloomberg.net; Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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