Hurricane Irene hits Vermont
I’m at a loss. My idea was to write about the things I saw and the conversations I shared with victims of Tropical Storm Irene but after three weeks and countless hours spent on the road traveling across Vermont I’m going to let the photos do the talking. I thought it would be easier to sum up my thoughts post-Irene but its a blur of sad, muddy destruction. Honestly, my photos don’t do this justice. I see flooding and tornado aftermath on TV and am shocked but protected. I can’t truly realize the situation. Standing amongst the debris that filled people’s lives in what I called the yard sale from hell, all I could think or say is “It’s just too much.” I felt tiny and swallowed up by the unbelievable energy coming from the victims. They were on the move hauling bag after sofa after box of photos to their front lawns for cleansing. Shovel after shovel of thick, heavy, stinky mud from their basements and first floor of their homes. Everything ruined. Vermonters are incredible. Accustomed to strange and somewhat extreme weather, we’re resilient. We are not, however, prepared for hurricanes and the unbelievable flood waters that come with them. I think most of us expected heavy winds. We were worried about power outages and trees downed across our roadways. I don’t think we expected the water and the inconceivable volume of it. What took place was a nightmare.
The impressive and extensive news coverage of Irene’s wrath can be found at my newspaper, the Burlington Free Press. I’m so proud of the work that my fellow photographers and reporters pulled out that week as our small newsroom hit all corners of the state to see what happened and relay the stories from cut-off communities. Families thanked us for coming to their towns and for telling their stories making the week of 12+ hour days and hundreds of miles driven bearable. I was touched by the kindness and hospitality that these people extended despite not having a home to play host to. I felt awkward photographing their fragile state and their most personal possessions strewn about their lawn like garbage, but it was garbage now. No longer sacred, items were disposed of too damaged to repair. Read these people’s stories below, I’ve included links. I’m a picture person and can’t paint a picture nearly as complete as what our talented reporters put together.
The things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met have left an untouchable impression on me. We’re all proud to be Vermonters each and every day, but never more so than after Irene. This state rallied. The effort, the support and the hope carried by even the most hard-hit families left me in awe and overwhelmed. To face such disaster and push through it is astounding. Strength and volunteerism fuels our communities. Despite uncertainty Vermonters are helping their neighbors through the enormous struggle they face at home. There is an energy now, a crazy maybe, that keeps everything moving. From Burlington to Brattleboro the damage is extensive, but the rebuild? Impressive.
Sampling of Stories:
Clearing out the basement of his childhood home, Jim Garbelotti is faced with several feet of mud leftover from flood waters that filled not only the basement, but six feet of the first floor.
Lisa Hamilton lifts Aubree Chapman, 3, out of the bridge wreckage on Cooke Rd. while her mother (far left) waits her turn as they evacuate their home after heavy flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in Brattleboro on Monday Aug. 29, 2011. Excerpt from An Irene Narrative:
Aubree Chapman, 3, screams, “Diesel!”
She is worried about her dog, Diesel, who is trying to follow her family across the broken Cooke Road bridge. Aubree’s mother and a neighbor have carried her carefully across the makeshift path of planks and ladders as they evacuate their cut-off neighborhood.
Diesel, on the far side of the brook, appears prepared to jump in and splash across to rejoin his family. In a series of tearful screams Aubree pleads for her dog to stop, her hands tightly clasping her backpack straps. She doesn’t let him out of her sight.
Aubree is headed with her mother to temporary quarters at her grandmother’s house. Diesel is scooped up by a neighbor and returned safely home.
The little girl looks up at photographer Emily McManamy and asks, tentatively, “Are you coming to grandma’s house, too?”
Reporter Joel Banner Baird shot this photo of me as we prepared to cross the makeshift planks and ladders over a collapsed bridge.
Sterling Saunders, 85, sits in the passenger seat of his car to wipe his brow. He has just carried a cinder block to the front door of his mobile home at the Glen Park mobile home park, which is sitting 20 feet from its original location.
Cheeks flushed and pants muddied, Saunders sits quietly with his eyes fixed on his home. The trailer was destroyed. His eyes look tired and lost.
Surrounded by mud, debris, a scarred landscape and the remnants of people’s homes, there is a feeling of smallness — of being tiny, in fact — because it is impossible to help the dozens of people encountered in just one afternoon.
I remember a bottle of water in my car and offer it to Saunders. After fiddling with the sealed pop-top, he drinks.
“I gotta go get my clothes,” he says.
He slowly walks back to his battered mobile home in search of fresh, clean clothing.
Andy Jones, manager of the Intervale Community Farm, looks at the three acres of butternut squash that were destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene’s floods in the Burlington Intervale on Friday Sept. 9, 2011. The farm canceled this year’s winter CSA.
Bill Gibson of Rochester talks about the extensive damage to the region after running across a temporary foot bridge built by residents stranded by Tropical Storm Irene on Thursday Sept. 15, 2011.
Phish front man Trey Anastasio performs at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction Wednesday night, September 14, 2011, for a special concert to benefit Tropical Storm Irene flood victims in Vermont.
Phish performed a special sold-out 12,000 ticket show outside Burlington with proceeds to benefit the victims of Tropical Storm Irene. $1.2 million was raised in one night. Wow. I had the honor of shooting the event alongside fellow Free Press photographer Glenn Russell. Glenn worked on video while I shot stills and when it was all wrapped up, Ryan Mercer produced the video and did a FANTASTIC job. Watch the Phish show video here: PHISH performs Vermont Benefit Show.
An incredible couple of weeks that opened my eyes…wide. I feel for the thousands affected by this and know that it’ll, unfortunately, take years to recover. Nearly everyone I met said it’s such a shame that it takes a tragedy like this to realize the power of community. It’s true, but what an amazing thing to now know and have realized. That’s the gift.