The Marshfield Village Store, which sits at the junction of two country highways in a small Vermont town, has become a bit of everything in recent days as residents struggle to recover from the historic floods that hit the state.
First, the store in Marshfield, about 45 miles (70 kilometers) east of the state’s largest city, Burlington, served as a haven for about three dozen people. On Friday, it was a much-needed freshwater distribution center and source of supply.
“We are about to start releasing it more formally, if there are other people who have not yet been able to get the support they need, so that we can provide them with materials and volunteers, emergency drugs, working on their properties, that’s where we are right now,” said Michelle Eddleman McCormick, the store’s general manager.
Storms dumped up to two months of rain in a matter of days in parts of the region earlier this week, surpassing the amount that fell when Tropical Storm Irene blew through in 2011 and caused major flooding. Officials called this week’s flooding the state’s worst natural disaster since the 1927 floods, and some suggested storms like this one showed the impacts of climate change.
More rain is expected in the coming days, and Vermont officials said on Saturday that brings the possibility of landslides.
The flooding was blamed on one fatality: Stephen Davoll, 63, drowned in his home on Wednesday in Barre, a central Vermont town of about 8,500, according to a Vermont Emergency Management spokesman, Mark Bosma. He urged people to continue to be very careful when returning home and to repair the damage.
“The loss of a Vermonter is always painful, but it’s especially so this week,” U.S. Senator Peter Welch said in a statement.
It was the second flood-related death resulting from an epic storm and flood system in the northeast this week. The first was in upstate New York, where a woman was swept away by floodwaters in Fort Montgomery, a small community on the Hudson River about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of New York.
President Joe Biden on Friday approved Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s request for a major disaster declaration to provide federal support. Scott also said late Friday that he had asked the US Department of Agriculture to issue a disaster designation for the state due to crop damage.
Farms were hit hard, just after many growers suffered a hard frost in May. It is expected to “destroy a lot of our livestock produce and feed,” Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said at a news conference. It was too early to determine damage costs, he said.
“In our mountainous state, much of our most fertile farmland is in river valleys, and countless fields of corn, hay, vegetables, fruit and pasture have been flooded and buried,” said said Scott.
Assessors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were scheduled to begin inspecting hard-hit areas in Vermont on Saturday. This will help determine who will be eligible for government assistance. US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is also due to arrive in the state next week to assess flood damage.
The state and others in the Northeast, including New Hampshire and Maine, are bracing for wetter weather expected to hit Sunday and next week. The New Hampshire Department of Safety and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services said they are closely monitoring water levels across the state.
“We don’t know the extent of some of these storms,” Scott said.
Many communities have been in contact with Vermont emergency management officials, but state officials said Friday they had yet to hear from about two to three dozen of them. National Guard troops were sent in to make contact. The state also announced that centers will open to help flood survivors recover this weekend in Barre and Ludlow, a ski village in southern Vermont.
Most emergency shelters emptied, with fewer than 70 people remaining. The focus has shifted to providing food and water and repairing infrastructure, including dozens of closed roads. State officials estimated that 23 water treatment plants either flooded or discharged untreated sewage into waterways.
Ludlow residents have mostly returned home and been able to get power and water, City Manager Brendan McNamara said. All roads into town previously cut off by flooding are now accessible.
But many challenges remained. The post office and the sewage treatment plant were badly damaged. The main grocery store and several restaurants were closed due to damage. In their place, dozens of pop-up pantries have emerged to provide fresh meals. The community center served as a clearinghouse for water, food and medicine donated by volunteers who poured into town.
“You walk down the street, and any place that hasn’t been hit has a sign out front – free food. Please come get it,” McNamara said. “That tells me we have one hell of a community.”
As of Friday, about 5,200 people statewide had signed up to help relief efforts through the state’s emergency management agency and an online volunteer recruitment effort, according to Philip Kolling, director of SerVermont.
“What we’re doing doesn’t even begin to capture all of the volunteers organized through local organizations, cities and informal networks, and we encourage these grassroots efforts because they can often respond to critical needs more quickly,” said Kolling.
Some volunteers have offered to drive for the Meals on Wheels charity or take people to medical appointments, others to help with general cleaning.
In Ludlow, the Kolkata restaurant prepared meals for first responders, volunteers and anyone else who might need it. The large banquet hall has been furnished with cots, water and toiletries.
“There’s a lot of work to do to get us back to normal,” said Michael Reyes, who works for a hotel group that owns the restaurant.
With more rain to come, it’s critical residents follow safety restrictions as they dig out of the storm, said Miro Weinberger, mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city.
“We continue to operate under a state of emergency, and further heavy rain is expected on Sunday. Again, I urge you to heed all road closures and all directives from state and local authorities, including to stay away from banks, creeks and creeks where flash floods can happen quickly,” Weinberger said.
McCormack reported from Concord, New Hampshire, and Whittle reported from Portland, Maine. Associated Press reporters Lisa Rathke in Marshfield and Michael Casey in Boston contributed.