Vermonters grateful to avoid Irene repeat
By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL
The Associated Press | October 31,2012
WILMINGTON — Residents across Vermont who feared Superstorm Sandy would be a repeat of last year’s Tropical Storm Irene were grateful Tuesday their state had escaped the worst.
But they know what a devastating storm can do, and many sympathized with their fellow Northeasterners who took the brunt of Monday’s storm.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch what’s happening in other places because we know what it’s like,” said Lisa Sullivan, the owner of Wilmington’s Bartleby’s Books. “I don’t know if the town could take it if we were hit again.”
Tuesday life had returned to normal in the southern Vermont town, though school was canceled — a holdover decision made in the days leading up to Sandy’s arrival.
Wilmington took a direct hit in last year’s storm. Irene overwhelmed the Deerfield River, flooded the town and caused millions of dollars in damage, mostly to local businesses.
Sullivan said she started “obsessing” about Sandy last week. The pre-storm anxiety was felt in other communities hit by Irene as well. Residents and business owners in Waterbury, another community still rebuilding after Irene, felt their anxiety soar at the prospect of another flood.
Laurie Flaherty, whose dance studio Green Mountain Performing Arts was heavily damaged by Irene, said she rented a truck and was prepared to move everything with Sandy approaching. Although now in a new location, her studio could still flood if the Winooski River had reached the levels it did during Irene.
“I think for everybody, it was very emotional to think that could happen again,” Flaherty said.
But preparing for a repeat and having a plan to save her business gave her some peace of mind. Gov. Peter Shumlin said that while the prospect of another storm caused anxiety for many residents, Vermonters also were better prepared for having gone through Irene.
“We had an action plan,” Flaherty said. “In that respect, I felt very reassured that even if the worst had happened we were prepared.”
Flaherty said many dancers from New York City, which suffered the brunt of Sandy along with New Jersey, come to her studio to give demonstrations or perform. She offered advice Tuesday to those who have barely begun to think about rebuilding.
“You can only rebuild,” she said. “I mean when something like that happens, as devastating as it is, the only option I think is to accept it and then forge on.”
Adam Grinold of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce, where employees moved computers and files to higher ground Monday night, said he was relieved Sandy didn’t hit the Wilmington area hard.
“People have borrowed all the money they can and put it into buildings and inventory. They couldn’t do it again,” he said. “There’s a lot of post-traumatic stress out there, and there’s a continued camaraderie, and that’s what’s gotten us this far.”
Downtown Wilmington was devastated by flooding when Tropical Storm Irene hit on Aug. 28 last year. The waters destroyed a number of businesses and left the community reeling. The town clerk’s office saved hundreds of years of records by moving them from the town vault onto the second floor as the floodwaters rose. Bartleby’s Books was closed for two months.
“Obviously, we’re really happy there was no flooding,” Sullivan said. “We’re still so raw and emotional, (we were) on such high alert, but everyone is better prepared. Two years ago, no one would have done anything in advance of a predicted storm.”
Flaherty said what helped everyone get through Irene was support for each other.
“I am tempted to jump in my car and drive to New York City tomorrow,” she said. “There is just that part of me that feels so many people came to Waterbury and supported us, I feel like everybody in Waterbury right now should think about how they can help because so many people flooded our town and helped us.”
AP reporter Wilson Ring in Montpelier contributed to this report.