Concerns mount about dams nearing capacity in Vermont
Swift water rescue teams and local officials across Vermont were bracing for more precipitation and flooding Tuesday after persistent heavy rains drenched the state and other parts of the Northeast, unleashing fast-moving waters that washed out roads, trapped residents in their homes and disrupted travel. One person was killed in New York as she tried to leave her inundated house.
President Biden, who's in Lithuania for a NATO summit, declared a state of emergency for Vermont, the White House said Tuesday.
Officials were voicing concern about three dams in the state that were approaching capacity.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned Monday evening that it expected two of them — the Ball Mountain Dam in Jamaica and the Townshend Dam in the Townshend/Windham area — to release "large quantities of water over their spillways. This will result in severe flooding downstream of the dam."
"We anticipate floodwaters to increase rapidly overnight, and we recommend taking precautions now. We encourage everyone to follow the guidance from their local emergency management officials," the Corps' New England District tweeted.
And William Fraser, the city manager of Vermont's capital, Montpelier, warned in a Facebook post overnight that, "The Wrightsville Dam only has 6 feet of storage capacity left. If water exceeds capacity, the first spillway will release water into the North Branch River. This has never happened since the dam was built so there is no precedent for potential damage.
"There would be a large amount of water coming into Montpelier which would drastically add to the existing flood damage. ... Unfortunately, there are very few evacuation options remaining. People in at risk areas may wish to go to upper floors in their houses."
Fraser added that, "Computer and radio systems at the Police Station may become incapacitated if floodwaters increase."
He estimated Monday night that knee-high waters had reached much of downtown and were expected to rise a couple more feet overnight.
For good measure, the Montpelier city government said on Facebook that, "It's not just your imagination that this is a big flood. This has been the second highest recorded Winooski River level in history, behind only the historic 1927 flood. This is higher than 1992 and both 2011 flood events."
Montpelier and nearby Barre, Vermont issued emergency health orders closing their downtowns until at least noon, Vermont Public Television reported.
Troy Caruso, who owns a golf course, five restaurants and a motel in Ludlow, Vermont, said he's been checking the damage to his properties and in the town of about 800 people. A supermarket and shopping center were "wiped out," he said, as was a steakhouse and possibly a burger joint he owned.
"It's flooded beyond belief," Caruso said of the town, noting that the 10th hole of his golf course was underwater.
The National Weather Service said overnight that "showers will push north and eventually come to an end through the day Tuesday for New England."
There were no reports of injuries or deaths due to to the flooding in Vermont, according to emergency officials. But dozens of roads were closed, including many along the spine of the Green Mountains. And the National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings and advisories for much of the state from the Massachusetts line north to the Canadian border.
The U.S Army Corps of Engineers said late Monday they expected two dams to release water overnight, causing "severe flooding."
Rescue crews from North Carolina, Michigan and Connecticut were among those helping to get to Vermont towns on Monday that had been unreachable since torrents of rain began belting the state, according to Mike Cannon of Vermont Urban Search and Rescue.
Swift water rescue teams in Vermont had carried out more than 50 rescues, mainly in the southern and central areas of the state, Vermont Emergency Management said Monday night.
"We have not seen rainfall like this since Irene," Vermont Gov. Phil said, referring to Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. That storm killed six in the state, washed homes off their foundations and damaged or destroyed more than 200 bridges and 500 miles of highway.
What's different is that Irene lasted just about 24 hours, Scott said.
"This is going on. We're getting just as much rain, if not more. It's going on for days. That's my concern. It's not just the initial damage. It's the wave, the second wave, and the third wave," he said.
Vermont Rep. Kelly Pajala said she and about a half dozen others evacuated early Monday from a four-unit apartment building on the West River in Londonderry.
"The river was at our doorstep," said Pajala. "We threw some dry clothes and our cats into the car and drove to higher ground."
The slow-moving storm reached New England after hitting parts of New York and Connecticut on Sunday. Rainfall in certain parts of Vermont exceeded 8 inches by late Monday.
One of the worst-hit places was New York's Hudson Valley, where a woman identified by police as Pamela Nugent, 43, died as she tried to escape her flooded home in the hamlet of Fort Montgomery.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point was pounded with more than 8 inches of rain that sent debris sliding onto some roads and washed others out.
Officials say the storm has already wrought tens of millions of dollars in damage.
"Nine inches of rain in this community," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a briefing on a muddy street in Highland Falls. "They're calling this a '1,000 year event.'"
As of Monday evening, several washed-out streets in Highland Falls remained impassable, leaving some residents stuck in their homes, according to Police Chief Frank Basile. The village police station itself was full of mud and leaves after being flooded with about 5 inches of water, Basile said.
Atmospheric scientists say destructive flooding events are spurred by storms forming in a warmer atmosphere, making extreme rainfall a reality. The additional warming that scientists predict is coming will only make it worse.
The storm also interrupted travel. There were hundreds of flight cancellations at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports and more than 200 at Boston's Logan Airport, according to the Flightaware website. Amtrak temporarily suspended service between Albany and New York.