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Blizzard collapses barn roof

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February 19, 2007

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

ADDISON COUNTY — Little could have prepared Salisbury dairy farmer Lee Ann Goodrich for what she saw the morning after Wednesday’s blizzard dumped two-to-three feet of snow on the area.

When a farmhand went to the barn around 3:30 a.m. Thursday to milk, he found the structure’s roof had almost completely collapsed, killing at least 40 cows.

“We’re afraid we’re going to lose more,” said Goodrich, who runs the farm with her husband, Ernie, and father-in-law Don Goodrich.

The death toll at the Goodrich farm was especially painful, but several other barns around the county and state also suffered damage due to the heavy snowfall. In all, at least a dozen Vermont farms lost all or part of their barn roofs on Wednesday or Thursday, including the Goodriches’ and barns in Shoreham, New Haven and Weybridge.

The Goodrich farm on Shard Villa Road had two barns and about 530 milking cows before the blizzard. The barn that collapsed held about 230 animals. Don Goodrich estimated that it would cost at least $300,000 to make repairs, and in the meantime, the second barn is “ridiculously crowded.” Three large animal veterinarians were at the farm on Thursday, treating the cows that could be saved.

The family of Lorenzo and Amy Quesnel spent part of Thursday morning at the Goodriches’ barn helping clear the rubble and free the cows, despite the fact that the Quesnels also were dealing with the partial collapse of a roof on one of their barns on Cutting Hill Road in Shoreham. The Quesnels got a lot of help from friends of their own.

“We have unbelievable neighbors,” Amy Quesnel said.

According to Kristen Quesnel, daughter of Lorenzo and Amy, eight people were on the roof of the barn shoveling snow for much of the night of the snowstorm. “We had neighbors that walked through waist-high snow to help us,” she said. But their efforts weren’t enough to save one section in the middle of the roof. “That’s the scary part, you never know how much damage has already been done,” she added.

Amy Quesnel said that the collapse was in the larger of their two barns, which house a total of 870 cows. No cows were lost at the Quesnel farm.

“We were so fortunate,” Kirsten Quesnel said. “There were some cows that had some scrapes, but … we’re considering ourselves lucky because we had no cows or employees or family under it.”

Amy Quesnel said that she has seen heavy snowfall before, and the barn came through those storms unscathed. “It stood for 17 years, and we never had a problem,” she said. However, on Wednesday, wind and snow combined to create stresses they could not have predicted. “The way the wind and snow came in, there was too much weight on one side of the barn,” she said, calling it “a fluke thing.”

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts agreed with that assessment.

“The scope of this is too much snow, too fast, and it sounds like wind played a part as well,” he said. At the Quesnel farm, as well as others in the area, strong winds blew most of the snow off the north side of the barn’s roof, piling it up on the south side.

A barn on Sawyer Road in New Haven also collapsed on the south side. When farmer Richard Sawyer went to the barn to milk his cows a little before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, he noticed a crack in a beam of the rafters. That triggered a hasty effort by family members and friends to shovel snow off the roof, but in the end, they couldn’t entirely prevent the subsequent cave-in.

Richard and his father, Ken Sawyer, are members of the New Haven fire department, and they received help from a number of other firefighters.

No cows were injured in the Sawyers’ barn, and except for the southeast part of the roof itself, little damage was done. “We were lucky, we didn’t lose anything,” Ken Sawyer said.

Some farms had more warnings than others. The Quesnels and the Sawyers noticed a problem before the roof actually fell, even though they weren’t able to prevent the damage completely. But Robert Bowdish in Weybridge, like the Goodriches, didn’t see a problem until he found the cave-in before the Thursday morning milking.

The Bowdishes lost a section of the roof in the southwest part of the Lemon Fair Road barn in the holding area. No cows were seriously injured, but rubble blocked the way to the milking parlor and held up the usual work for several hours.

“It was pretty much a hold-up this morning,” said Bowdish on Thursday.

RECOVERY

All of the Addison County farms that suffered roof damage from the storm are making plans to repair. “We’ll rebuild as quick as we can,” Don Goodrich said.

With so many barn roof cave-ins around the state, it’s hard to say how long repairs will take. Some, like the Sawyers, had already ordered new trusses for the roof as of Friday.

Tebbetts said any farm dealing with a collapse should have contacted their insurance agency as soon as the danger had passed. “Most are trying to get through the immediate crisis of taking care of animals,” he said. “Then they’ll have to assess what they have to do in the long term.”

Amy Quesnel couldn’t say how long it would take her family to get back to normal, but they have already had contractors checking out the damage and taking measurements for what would be needed to replace or repair the broken trusses, she said.

And the Bowdishes did not know what it would take to repair the damage, but had a carpenter assessing the damage on Friday.

According to Vergennes veterinarian Joe Klopfenstein, animals that weren’t injured in the initial cave-ins will probably be fine in the long run. “Cows, as long as they’re protected from the wind, they can handle things pretty well,” he said. “They generate a lot of heat just from their digestion.”

Not being fed or milked regularly can be painful or harmful to cows, so making alternate arrangements to handle that was one of the first priorities for farmers. Several farms had a second barn with a milking parlor of its own, which is getting extra use as the collapsed barns await repairs. “If cows are out of their usual milking routine, that’s a big risk,” Klopfenstein said.

Goodrich said that rebuilding was already in progress. He didn’t know how long it would take before the farm was back to normal, but he said on Friday that he expected the collapsed barn would at least be serviceable enough to get cows out of the wind very soon. “We’re getting through the transition, but we’re hoping by tonight we’ll be able to get some of them in the barn,” he said.

Like the Goodriches, all farms have had to rely on their neighbors to some extent. “Vermonters will take care of each other, and we’ll try to get through this crisis,” Tebbetts said.

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