Many people who know Marta and me know that she is quite fond of rural Vermont, and that I fell in love with the state a few years ago during the process of falling in love with her. She owned a home for several years on Lake Ninevah between Mount Holly and Ludlow, and then she spent a year as interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Montpelier, the state's tiny but wonderful capital city.
Two images below: First image is map captured from Google's Hurricane Season 2011 map center this afternoon showing flood predictions through Sept. 2. Somewhere in that flood-prone blob is the entire state of Vermont. Second image is a photo from the Vermont Today blog showing U.S. Route 7 south of Rutland this morning.
That's why it hurts to write that Vermont is the Northeastern state that seems to have expected the least from Hurricane-Turned-Tropical Storm Irene but, proportionately speaking, may be suffering the most.
It's really bad up there. It's going to be a time to bravely pull together, which is what the community-minded Vermonters often do well. Entire towns are cut off because of roads -- even major roads like U.S. 4 and U.S. 7 -- have washed away to the point where it's hard to tell they ever existed. Vermont roads tend to be built in the valleys between the mountains, and that's just where the floodwaters go, too. The best engineered highways could not contain the fury of Mother Nature yesterday in Vermont.
They say it's the worst flooding since 1927. That's 84 years ago! Homes and businesses are destroyed. Downtowns are flooded in towns like Waterbury, Ludlow, and Brattleboro. My personal favorite town, the capital city of Montpelier, narrowly escaped a devastating flood had the Mansfield Dam been deliberately breached to let flooding water flow. Just now, the Vermont State Police confirmed another death; three people are now dead out of Vermont's tiny population of fewer than 700,000 people.
It got to The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore, too. A native of White River Juction, Vermont, the meteorolgist and broadcasting veteran of dozens of storms was doing a live shot from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan when he stole several minutes with whitecaps in New York Harbor as the background to focus viewers' attention on his Green Mountain home state a few hundred miles away.
I am absolutely heartbroken right now at what I'm seeing coming in right now out of Vermont.
I can't believe these pictures. I mean, this entire state is almost under water. I mean we have bridges that I've been across dozens of times in my life in Quechee, Vermont, that are just being washed away. I just can't believe what I am seeing right now out of my home state. This is just an awful situation. And it's not just Quechee. I mean, Burlington. Up into Ludlow, Vermont. If you remember skiing at Okemo, you go through the little town of Ludlow. And you stop there to get a sandwich, get something to drink.
I just had to throw that out there, guys, because it's on my mind. It's been a long two days, and the pictures just keep breaking my heart. I don't mean to belittle what's going on in other states, you know, North Carolina, Virginia, up through Delaware, up through Maryland and New Jersey with record flooding, into eastern Pennsylvania, all across New England, but seeing these pictures of where you grow up, it just breaks your heart. For anyone who thinks we went over the top on this hurricane, well this is what it's all about. This storm has had a huge, huge, outreach and unfortunately a historic flood on the way in Vermont because of Hurricane Irene.
I know President Obama and his team have worked hard, and so have all the Eastern Seaboard governors and mayors and their teams, to be ready and respond to this crisis. But as a knowledgeable native son like Cantore points out, little Vermont cries out for special attention. If you ask me, the President, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (a former governor herself), and FEMA Administrator Craig Fulgate should hop on Air Force One and head for Rutland or Burlington to pay a personal visit to Vermont.
The state is known for, among many other things, the sturdy and ready quality of its Vermont Air and Army National Guard. I'd think that transferring to a National Guard chopper at Burlington would give the Obama team the best way to inspect the damage and touch down at several of the crisis points. Given the road damage, a helicopter is the only way for anybody to get into a lot of these towns.
President Obama could put an elegant repeat use to the fondly spoken words of his predecessor, President Calvin Coolidge, if and when he visits Vermont. President Coolidge, born and raised in Plymouth Notch, Vermont (just about five miles from where Marta lived), offered this appreciation of his home state while visiting Vermont in 1928 after the 1927 storm devastation:
Vermont is a state I love. I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield, and Equinox, without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me. It was here that I first saw the light of day; here I received my bride, here my dead lie pillowed on the loving breast of our eternal hills.
I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.