BRANDON, Vt. – On Wednesday, Governor Phil Scott and other state officials recognized the 10-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene with a visit to Brandon, where flooding caused extensive damage to the downtown and surrounding areas.
A decade after the Neshobe River ran out of its banks and carried entire buildings off their foundations, Governor Scott recalled the scene like it was yesterday. At the same time, he acknowledged the long road to recovery that’s taken place in the years since.
“It’s been an incredible transformation of the downtown when you consider that when I came into town, Route 7 was closed and the House of Pizza was sitting in the middle of the road,” Governor Scott said.
At the time, Scott was Vermont’s lieutenant governor. He thought to call a friend who worked in construction and owned a crane, and they came to remove the Brandon House of Pizza from Route 7 the following day.
It’s the kind of story you hear often when Vermonters talk about the recovery effort after Irene, and VTrans Secretary Joe Flynn said that can-do attitude dates as far back as the devastating floods of 1927, when President Calvin Coolidge marveled at “the people of this brave little state of Vermont.”
“That phrase was evident everywhere we looked after Irene, from south to north and east to west,” Flynn said. “Vermont took a hard knock from Tropical Storm Irene, but she did not stay down. She rose up, and she rose up stronger.”
One of the ways Vermont has grown stronger in the aftermath of Irene is communities’ commitment to storm preparedness. Brandon town manager Dave Atherton said an overflow culvert built five years ago helped to avoid another disaster.
“40 days after we finished the construction of it, we had a flood almost the size of Irene on July 1, 2017 and the culvert saved our town.”
Erica Bornemann, Director of Vermont Emergency Management, said Irene also marked a turning point in how Vermont responds to and recovers from disasters.
“They will happen, they’ll happen in different areas of the state,” Bornemann said. “These towns understood the value of breaking the cycle of disaster, therefore put the effort after into hazard mitigation efforts that made them more resilient, and we really need to see that expanded in the rest of the state.”
“This is a somber anniversary as we reflect on the damage done, lost homes, and worst of all, the seven people who died during and in the immediate aftermath of the storm,” Governor Scott said. “At the same time, we all saw that Irene brought out the best in Vermonters, with countless acts of courage and kindness shown to friends, neighbors, and strangers. What’s more, politics took a back seat to progress and after ten years of hard work, Vermont is stronger than we were before.”