Posted by: Schuyler R. Thorpe | September 17, 2011

Vermonters Work To Clean Up After Irene Blows Through

Vermonters work to clean up, move on after Irene

LUDLOW, Vermont (Reuters) – On Meadow Street in Ludlow, Vermont, a dozen local high school students hauled mud-covered furniture from flooded houses, dumping it on lawns as the town dug out from the mess left by Hurricane Irene.

Lorraine Hughes, 60, walked through her nearly empty single-story house, which showed signs of the two-and-a-half feet of water it held on Sunday when more than a dozen Vermont communities experienced the worst floods in nearly a century.

“You spend all your time to try to make something nice, and to see it destroyed, it’s sickening, actually,” said Hughes, a teacher at the nearby Okemo Mountain School, sorting through salvaged possessions. “I’ll have to start from scratch.”

Irene battered the East Coast with up to 15 inches of rain on Saturday and Sunday, setting river level records in 10 states, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Ludlow is one of well over a dozen towns in Vermont — an inland state normally protected from hurricanes — to face severe flooding after rains funneled from its many mountains into the more populated valleys.

About 13 towns remained cut off after the roads were washed away, and the National Guard was bringing in supplies of food and water, in some cases by helicopter.

The storm killed at least three people in the state, damaged hundreds of roads and washed away several of the historic covered bridges that are a prime Vermont attraction.

By Wednesday, the power was back on in most of Ludlow, and signs posted on Main Street advised residents that the tap water was safe to drink.

Hughes and her neighbors had help from the local Black River High School soccer team and other students.

“We looked at conditions and said, forget the practice, let’s find some way to help,” said Tony Valente, the team’s 58-year-old coach. “It was the kids’ idea.”

On Main Street, a commercial cleaning crew was on its third day of digging mud out of “The Mill,” a three-story building housing a restaurant, offices and condominiums.

“We’ll be here at least a solid week,” said Alan DeGeorge, 36, who was leading the work. The owners of the building, which backs up to the Black River that flooded the town, had experienced small-scale flooding, but nothing like the nearly 10 feet that came with Irene.

“The owner of the restaurant knew there could be some flooding, so before he left, he put some electronics up on a table, to be off the floor,” DeGeorge said. “That wasn’t high enough for this flood.”

Similar scenes played out across the state’s southern half as residents began digging the mud, debris and soaked possessions from their homes.

In Ludlow, as Hughes and her neighbors cleared their homes, someone played a recording of Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow,” the song from the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz,” which starts with a different weather disaster, a tornado.

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