By JOHN FLOWERS, KATHRYN FLAGG and LEE KAHRS
ADDISON COUNTY — The streams and rivers in Addison County are normally postcard-perfect images of tranquility this time of the year. But this summer’s unrelenting rain transformed many local waterways into proverbial freight trains on Wednesday, sending water careening into roads, bridges and backyards in a swath from Leicester and Brandon north and east to Granville and Hancock.
Emergency crews responded in at least eight area towns. Flooding compromised at least two bridges — one on Route 53 just south of Lake Dunmore and the other on Lower Plains Road in East Middlebury — prompting their closure. Numerous roads in southern Addison County and in the White River Valley were closed because of flooding.
As the Addison Independent went to press, authorities had closed 18 roads and streets due to floodwaters. They included:
• Route 53 along Lake Dunmore in Salisbury and Leicester.
• Olde Town Road in Ripton.
• Fernville Road, the Leicester-Whiting Road, Fern Lake Road and Shaddock Road in Leicester.
• Silver Lake Road, Dutton Brook Road, Flora White Road, and Carlisle Hill Road in Goshen.
• Three Mile Bridge Road in Middlebury and portions of Lower Plains Road (which was evacuated) in East Middlebury.
• Route 125 between Route 116 and Route 100 in East Middlebury, Ripton and Hancock.
• Newton Thompson Road, Wheeler Road, Union Street, Barlow Avenue, and Forest Dale Road in Brandon.
Authorities were still assessing flood damage Wednesday afternoon, when the floodwaters appeared to have crested and even receded in some areas. But officials cautioned that conditions could quickly worsen in the event of new rainfall. Showers were forecast through this Saturday.
“Right now, we’ve got a situation where the ground is saturated, so any bit of rain could put us in a dangerous situation,” Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said.
John Goff, a meteorologist at the Weather Service in Burlington, said radar estimates placed rainfall in the Orwell-Granville region at between two and five inches during the roughly seven-hour duration of Wednesday’s storm. The Burlington area is running about 7.5 inches above normal rainfall levels for this time of year, according to Goff.
Firefighters spent much of the day Wednesday detouring traffic away from trouble spots, including Route 7 near the Three Mile Bridge. The main north-south artery was temporarily closed Wednesday morning when it was covered by Middlebury River floodwaters.
Another trouble area proved to be East Main Street in East Middlebury, where the Middlebury River briefly jumped its banks and was ripping into the backyards of residences in the closely-knit neighborhood.
Michelle Larocque and her family had just moved into their East Main Street home nine months ago. Now the river was raging along her backyard, just a few feet from their garage.
“I was at work and got a phone call,” Larocque said as she looked warily at the river. “I came home to get my animals out of the house.”
She pointed to her yard’s boundary with the river, where the current had just taken out several large boulders.
“This is as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” Larocque said. “I just hope the garage doesn’t float away. I’m pretty shaken up, and I haven’t heard much.”
Tammy Willson’s King’s Row home is located on the opposite side of East Main Street, away from the river. But her basement often floods when the river is swollen. The Willsons’ home is equipped with sump pumps to discharge water during wet weather. Fortunately, her cellar was not filling with water on Wednesday.
While Vermont Emergency Management (VEM) and the American Red Cross had set up at temporary shelter at the Middlebury municipal gym, there were no takers as of Wednesday afternoon. Authorities had also set up a shelter in Hancock.
“I’m not concerned at this point; my mother-in-law lives on a hill, so we’ll go to her home,” Willson said of her family’s plan if things got worse.
Middlebury Fire Chief Rick Cole spent much of Wednesday helping to coordinate emergency response activities from the town’s main fire station on Seymour Street. He said that, to his knowledge, no one had been injured as a result of the flooding.
Firefighters helped install a temporary water line in the Lower Plains Road area.
Hanley said officials will soon inspect the East Middlebury water system to make sure it hasn’t been compromised by the flooding and associated damage.
“We will watch the water and see how things go,” Cole said of the need to be vigilant over the next few days.
Meanwhile, in Ripton, some residents found themselves again isolated from Middlebury due to flood damage. It was only in mid-June that substantial rain storms wiped out large portions of North Branch Road and some of its connectors. While early word indicated the repairs to North Branch Road had held out under this latest onslaught, Riptonites were cut off from Middlebury on Wednesday due to the closure of Route 125 to the east and west, and the Goshen-Ripton Road to the south.
Authorities evacuated the Silver Towers Camp on the Goshen–Ripton Road, as well as Branbury State Park, in case the situation deteriorated.
The only way out of town was north via the Lincoln Road to Bristol.
Further south, residents and merchants in Forest Dale were relieved to see the waters recede on Wednesday afternoon.
David Carroll is a Leicester resident and owner of Forestdale Grocery and Deli.
“As far as the flooding went, all I can tell you is, I’ve been here 19 years, it was the worst I’ve seen,” Carroll said. “In my 19 years being here, I’d never seen the water come down the road like it was. I can’t compare it to anything I’d seen before.”
Officials at Central Vermont Public Service Corp. (CVPS) reported at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday that 510 residents in Addison County were without electricity, as the flooding had ripped out some power lines.
FLOODS IN BRANDON
At the same time in Brandon, the Neshobe River crested in Forestdale at about 9:30 a.m., and water seeped over Fern Lake Road and Furnace Road to the front door of the post office. A water main dating back to 1890 was severed by flood waters near the bridge in Forestdale. At least 12 residents were evacuated from their homes on Newton Road as the Neshobe rose over its banks and knocked on residents’ back doors.
In Goshen, four major roads were closed and many people were stranded as raging stream waters rose, wiping out culverts and downing trees. Town Hill Road was almost impassable as water eroded the roadside stream bank, felling a tree that came to rest over the road on a telephone pole. Some residents took the chance and drove under the tree, while others did not risk it and turned around.
Kim Clark of Goshen was buying bottled water, chips and other supplies at Dave’s Store in Forestdale.
“Goshen is not accessible,” he said. “I’m going to our camp on Lake Dunmore and hope for the best.
Route 53 by the Neshobe Golf Club was closed for a time after flood waters overcame the golf course and flowed over the road near the second hole. Union Street in Brandon was closed by 2 p.m. due to a flooded roadway.
But the main attraction was the Neshobe River Falls in downtown Brandon. By noon, onlookers, residents and tourists alike, slowed traffic to a crawl as they traveled from one side of Center Street to the other to see the mass of chocolate-colored water flowing over the falls.
Art Doty was peering over the gate at the falls across from Conant Interiors as millions of gallons of muddy water launched over the steepest part of the falls.
“I hope that old bridge holds,” he said of the Conant Street Bridge.
Watershed Tavern owners Kerry and Lisa Weeks closed up shop at 1 p.m. after four feet of water leaked into the basement of the business. They had already been told to keep patrons away form the rear of the tavern, where the rushing flood waters flow under the building.
“It’ll do what it’ll do,” Kerry Weeks said of the river as he brought another soggy box out of the basement. “All we can do is get out of its way.”
In the parking lot above the falls, Brandon Falls Diner owners Dale and Judy Harris were using brooms to sweep brown flood water away from the back of the restaurant.
“I think we’re going to serve boiled dinners tonight,” Dale joked.
VEM officials reminded motorists they should never drive across flooded roads, as unseen currents are powerful enough to sweep away an automobile.
Towns that have experienced damage during the flood should Vermont Emergency Management at 800-347-0488.