Escape From Killington: Excavator’s Road Opens Cut-Off Town

Craig Mosher Operates an Excavator In Killington
Craig Mosher, owner of Mosher Excavating, helps move rubble from Route 4 in Killington, Vermont, on Wednseday. Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

Craig Mosher has built many a road through Vermont’s back country. So when he saw Hurricane Irene carved a gaping chasm outside Killington where Route 4 used to be, the excavator put the highway back together again.

“The state couldn’t get here, we had no phone service, and half my business was underwater,” the sleep-deprived 42-year-old Mosher said. “I jumped on my tractor and started moving rubble. Some of it was pieces of my neighbor’s house.”

Vermont, mired by flooding from Hurricane Irene, began to make its way back today. Sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s speeded efforts to open towns and villages cut off by fallen trees and washed-out roads, said Susan Allen, spokeswoman for Governor Peter Shumlin. Only one of the 13 communities identified as inaccessible remains so, according to Chris Cole, spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Fifty-eight segments of state roads are closed, down from 71, Cole said. Five bridges reopened yesterday, while 26 remain inoperable, Cole said. All rivers have crested and some are receding, Allen said.

With yesterday’s arrival of 35 FEMA trucks loaded with food and water, 100 smaller vehicles have fanned out to deliver the supplies, Allen said.

Dead and Missing

Vermont endured a heavy blow. About 12,000 electric customers remained without power, according to the state Emergency Operations Center. Three people died and a man missing in Rutland is presumed dead, according to Nancy Erikson, spokeswoman for Vermont Emergency Management.

“That’s the most tragic thing that’s happened,” Shumlin said on the CBS Early Show.

In the face of the devastation, the playlist on Bennington radio station WBTN-AM turned ironic: “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones was followed by Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”

Natasha Garder, co-owner of the town’s Crazy Russian Girls bakery, said today that she had been helping coordinate food relief since the storm. She was preparing brownies and 100 loaves of bread to be delivered to Wilmington, about 20 miles east of Bennington, where her business got its start. Wilmington lost its offices and police department to the Deerfield River.

“We’re taking care of our community, but we want to take care of our neighbors, also,” Garder said. “We have an emotional connection.”

One Way Out

In the Killington area, home to the namesake ski resort, the Ottauquechee River on Aug. 28 created a 250-yard gulf across the state’s major four-lane highway, cutting off Killington and other towns. Thousands of locals and tourists were marooned on what many started to refer to as “Gilligan’s Island.”

By Aug. 29, much of the staff from Mosher Excavating Inc. was redirecting the river into its bed. Then it was a matter of “shoving the debris into the gap and bulldozing it down and smoothing it over with sand and silt,” Mosher said

A dusty one-lane road out of Killington was open for three hours today.

At least 400 cars packed with stranded tourists from Manhattan to Moscow slipped out, according to town Selectman Jim Haff.

“Craig is definitely a local hero,” said Roger Rivera, 33, an emergency worker with the state. “This is what Vermonters do. We don’t wait for help. We get it done ourselves.”

Making a Break

Residents had yet to be visited by FEMA workers, Haff said this morning. They are using public and private equipment to jury-rig as much infrastructure as possible, he said. Route 4 beyond Killington, while passable, is dangerous and few warning signs have been posted.

“FEMA is trying its hardest,” said Rivera. “But the whole state is a mess, and they can’t be everywhere.”

Refugee tourists were grateful for the escape route.

“We’ve had some tough days without power, and people were cranky,” said Frank Law, 62, a retired computer executive from New Jersey. “Vermonters have been great. We are glad to be getting out of here.”

Mosher has been too busy to locate his two cows, which wandered off “free-grazing” after his pastureland was churned into mud. “Someone called and said, ‘Your cow dumped on my yard.’

“I told them I was a bit too busy to deal with it right away.”

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