PITTSFIELD — Peter Borden is working from the inside out.
Since Sunday, the Pittsfield emergency management director has been coordinating efforts in his small valley town of about 300 residents since Irene's heavy rains cut off all access to the outside world.
With roads washed out in all directions, and only the resources available between the wide, 35-foot-deep washouts on either end of the town on Route 100, Borden and other residents (as well as a wedding party of 60) have had to make do with a handful of portable generators and “a lot of cooperation and working together.”
“This has been the coolest bonding experience I've ever seen,” Borden said Tuesday morning via cellphone on the small town green. “You wouldn't believe it.”
Borden, who is The Times Argus' advertising director, said seven houses in town were destroyed by rushing water — including one that washed downriver and crashed into a bridge — and a privately owned covered bridge was swept away. Everyone is accounted for, and no one was injured, although there were two memorable boat rescues Sunday as the tropical storm dropped several inches of rain on Vermont.
Now, after the water receded, there is just widespread devastation.
“We're an island,” he said, describing the damage to the two-lane road and the village area. “We are totally cut off, but we are all comfortable with it.”
Many of the townspeople have been meeting daily at 7 a.m., doing head checks and making sure the day's work assignments are clear. The meetings have been very well attended, he said, and the volunteers have been working long hours. With the wedding party in town, “we have a lot of strong backs,” he added. “They have been a great help.”
A bulletin board has been set up for public notes and notices. A curfew has been put in place. A 15 mph speed limit has been imposed across town because of all the pedestrians and children around. Gravel is being harvested using one of three excavators, two loaders and a small fleet of dump trucks.
“We know what we have to do to dig out; it's more like making a passageway,” Borden said. “But we know areas beyond us are in trouble, too. We have no idea who is reaching out to us. And we have no access to outside information; the information we do get (cellphone service when it works), we have to be very careful with … we don't always trust it. Right now, miscommunication is dangerous.”
Borden said there is no room for an emergency, especially a medical-related one. Even though there is a doctor, a physicians assistant and an emergency room nurse in town, “we can't afford an incident.”
There is plenty of fresh water, 1,000 gallons or so pulled from a nearby well pump. But Tuesday morning, when cellphone reception was strong enough, Borden began making calls to liaisons to get food and medical supplies, notably insulin and antibiotics, flown in by FEMA. According to Gov. Peter Shumlin's office, there are more than a dozen towns across Vermont whose roads are impassable or inaccessible. Deliveries for supplies were being conducted throughout the day.
At noon, Borden said the governor's office indicated that help was on the way.
“The two general stores are pretty well picked over,” he said. “We need food and supplies, no question about it. We need food for about 400. … That help will be a relief.”
Borden said even though progress was being made to clear the road and fill the massive gaps on Route 100 heading toward Killington, “we know what's on the other side.”
Route 4 in Mendon and Killington, Bridgewater and Woodstock is wiped out. In the other direction, in Rochester, Stockbridge and Bethel, floodwaters did major damage.
“It will be a few days before we are where we all need to be,” he said. “For right now, we are actually having a great time being together. It is an amazing group of people, and everyone seems to be getting along really well.”
Ironically, Borden has seen this before. When the May 26-27 flood took out The Times Argus' printing press and news and advertising departments, Borden was on hand picking up those pieces. Part of his job in Barre over the last three months has been coordinating with some of the contractors, as well as mobilizing his advertising staff.
“Let's just say I know how to think about these things now,” he said. “I know there are challenges to come I have not even thought of yet. But, just like up there, we will be doing them together.”
Steven Pappas is The Times Argus editor.
Photos of the Pittsfield Destruction from Dan Webb.
A few shots of the utter devastation in Pittsfield. Rte 100 is pretty much destroyed. The road in the ess turns is mostly gone. There is a huge gap in front Wintergreen and the bridge at the Clear is destroyed . . .They have it open now for 4 wheelers and maybe some emergency rigs. The the covered bridge at Riverside Farm is gone and the concrete bridge there at Tweed River Rd. is destroyed. The 100 bridge over the West Branch of the Tweed(at the yoga studio) is heavily damaged. Heading north from town, The 100 bridge at Guernsey Brook is gone. I know of at least 9 houses that were completely lost with many, many more sustaining considerable damage. Side roads are also mostly impassable.
There is no power. Some people have generators. Mostly , everyone realized the isolation of the situation and began pitching in anyway possible. Getting machinery and equipment to the bridge locations was a major priority.
Heading into Pittsfield from the south, approaching Tweed River Drive.
The entrance of Tweed River Drive.
A ladder was put in place to help navigate the wreckage of the bridge.
The covered bridge used to be here.
Looking north on Rte 100, near Lower Michigan Road
The area where the West Branch and the main branch of the Tweed River come together was hit bad.
Two people were rescued using ropes from this home during the height of the flood.
A pig was rescued from its pen behind this home.
Old Glory flying high behind the same home.
By late afternoon, townspeople had nearly filled in the gap at the bridge south of town near the Clear.
Rte 100, in the ess curves.