Vermont ravaged by 'historic and catastrophic' flooding as governor warns 'this is nowhere near over'

The roads around Gov. Phil Scott's house were impassable, so he had to hike on snowmobile trails to reach the state's emergency operations center.

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A day after torrential downpours triggered deadly flash floods in New York’s Hudson Valley, the deluge continued in Vermont, where the storm caused catastrophic flooding that drew comparisons to the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Irene more than a decade ago.

Parts of Vermont saw two months’ worth of rain in a matter of hours, overwhelming river valleys and threatening communities across the state.

“Make no mistake, the flooding we have seen is historic and catastrophic, surpassing levels seen during Tropical Storm Irene,” Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said at a press briefing on Tuesday morning. “I know thousands of Vermonters have lost homes, businesses and more. The devastation is far-reaching.”

A parked truck and car have floodwaters almost up to their door handles.
Floodwaters rise in Bridgewater, Vt., on Monday, submerging parked vehicles and threatening homes near the Ottauquechee River. (Hasan Jamali/AP)

According to the state’s emergency management center, swift water rescue teams have conducted more than 100 rescues throughout Vermont since the flooding began late Sunday.

At least 78 roads across the state were closed due to flooding, up from 24 on Monday.

Several people watch as floodwaters triggered by torrential rains flow across a road in front of them.
People watch as floodwaters triggered by torrential rains flow across a road in Chester, Vt., on Monday. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Scott said the roads around his home were impassable and that he had to hike to the state’s emergency operations center on a snowmobile trail.

“The good news is the rain has stopped in some areas,” Scott said. “But that does not mean waters will immediately recede. They may in fact continue to rise. And even though the sun may shine later today and tomorrow, we expect more rain later this week, which will have nowhere to go in the oversaturated ground. So I want to be clear: We are not out of the woods. This is nowhere near over.”

Montpelier ravaged by floodwaters

Flood levels in the state capital of Montpelier have not been seen in nearly a century. Montpelier Mayor Jack McCullough issued an emergency health order closing downtown until at least noon on Tuesday due to floodwaters, saying it would allow officials to assess safety risks and begin cleanup efforts. Three radio towers used to dispatch ambulances and the fire department were not functioning due to flood damage, officials there said. Tuesday afternoon they issued a notice for all residents to boil water before drinking due to likely contamination.

The Winooski River — which is considered full at 11 feet and flooded at 15 — crested at 21 feet, breaking the previous record and exceeding the levels reached during Irene.

More than five inches of rain fell in Montpelier Monday, a new daily record. Officials warned that a nearby dam was close to capacity.

‘No precedent for potential damage’

A man carries belongings from a home through thigh-high floodwaters.
A man carries belongings through floodwaters from a home in Bridgewater, Vt., on Monday. (Hasan Jamali/AP)

City Manager William Fraser said early Tuesday morning that the nearby Wrightsville Dam was nearing capacity. In a Facebook post, Fraser noted that the dam has not exceeded capacity since it was built and there’s “no precedent for potential damage” that could occur if the excess spills into the North Branch River.

“Unfortunately, there are very few evacuation options remaining,” Fraser said. “People in at risk areas may wish to go to upper floors in their houses. The City has asked for swift water rescue assets to be moved into the area to assist when possible.”

In Ludlow, Vt., video footage taken with a drone showed widespread flooding.

In Fairfax, Vt., farmers were rushing to finish tending to their crops while watching water on the Lamoille River rise.

“We’re panic-chopping lettuce,” Nate Mercer, site manager at River Berry Farm, told “It’s gone up at least a foot or two since we got here and started working at 7:30 a.m.”

Biden approves emergency declaration

President Biden, who landed in Lithuania on Monday for this week’s NATO summit, approved Vermont’s emergency declaration, ordering federal assistance to supplement state and local response and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

“Although the coming days, weeks and months will be incredibly difficult, we’ve faced challenges before,” Scott said. “And Vermonters have risen to meet the moment, whether during Irene, COVID or other hardships, Vermonters have proven time and time again we’re willing and able to step up and help our neighbors.

“So many Vermonters have been working around the clock, saving lives and helping those in need,” the governor added. “For all their debt I will be forever grateful.”

Heavy rain sends mud and debris down the Ottauquechee River in Queechee, Vermont.
Heavy rain sends mud and debris down the Ottauquechee River in Quechee, Vt., on Monday. (Jessica Rinaldi/the Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Cover thumbnail: @henrysweatherchannel/Instagram via Reuters