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Relentless rain causes floods, prompts rescues in Northeast

SAR crews from North Carolina, Michigan and Connecticut were among those helping to get to towns that have been unreachable

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A damaged car lays on a collapsed roadway along Route 32 in the Hudson Valley near Cornwall, N.Y., Monday, July 10, 2023. Heavy rain has washed out roads and forced evacuations in the Northeast as more downpours were forecast throughout the day.

AP Photo/Paul Kazdan

By Lisa Rathke and John Minchillo
Associated Press

ANDOVER, Vt. — Rescue teams raced into Vermont on Monday after heavy rain drenched parts of the Northeast, washing out roads, forcing evacuations and halting some airline travel. One person was killed in New York’s Hudson Valley as she tried to escape her flooded home.

Mike Cannon of Vermont Urban Search and Rescue said crews from North Carolina, Michigan and Connecticut were among those helping to get to towns that have been unreachable since torrents of rain belted the state. The towns of Londonderry and Weston were inaccessible, Cannon said, and rescuers were heading there to do welfare checks. Water levels at several dams were being closely monitored.

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers said late Monday they expected two dams to release water overnight, causing “severe flooding” downstream likely to affect multiple towns.

Flooding hit Vermont’s state capital, with Montpelier Town Manager Bill Fraser estimating Monday night that knee-high waters had reached much of downtown and were expected to rise a couple more feet during the night. Montpelier had largely been spared during Tropical Storm Irene, which struck the region in 2011.

“For us, this is far worse than Irene. We got water but it went up and down. There were some basements flooded but it didn’t last long,” Fraser said, comparing this flooding to the Montpelier Ice Jams in 1992. “We are completely inundated. The water is way, way higher than it ever got during Irene.”

During Irene, Vermont got 11 inches (28 centimeters) of rain in 24 hours. Irene killed six in the state, washed homes off their foundations and damaged or destroyed more than 200 bridges and 500 miles (805 kilometers) of highway.

There have been no reports of injuries or deaths related to the latest flooding in Vermont, according to state emergency officials. Roads were closed across the state, including many along the spine of the Green Mountains.

Some people canoed their way to the Cavendish Baptist Church in Vermont, which had turned into a shelter. About 30 people waited it out, some of them making cookies for firefighters who were working to evacuate and rescue others.

“People are doing OK. It’s just stressful,” shelter volunteer Amanda Gross said.

Vermont Rep. Kelly Pajala said she and about half dozen others had to evacuate early Monday from a four-unit apartment building on the West River in Londonderry.

“The river was at our doorstep,” said Pajala. “We threw some dry clothes and our cats into the car and drove to higher ground.”

The slow-moving storm reached New England in the morning after hitting parts of New York and Connecticut on Sunday. Additional downpours in the region raised the potential for flash flooding; rainfall in certain parts of Vermont had exceeded 7 inches ( 18 centimeters), the National Weather Service in Burlington said.

One of the worst-hit places was New York’s Hudson Valley, where a woman identified by police as Pamela Nugent, 43, died as she tried to escape her flooded home in the hamlet of Fort Montgomery.

The force of the flash flooding dislodged boulders, which rammed into the woman’s house and damaged part of its wall, Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus told The Associated Press. Two other people escaped.

“She was trying to get through (the flooding) with her dog,” Neuhaus said, “and she was overwhelmed by tidal wave-type waves.”

Officials say the storm has already wrought tens of millions of dollars in damage. In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a news conference Monday the storm sent “cars swirling in our streets” and dumped a “historic” amount of rain.

“Nine inches of rain in this community,” Hochul said during a briefing on a muddy street in Highland Falls. “They’re calling this a ‘1,000 year event.’”

As of Monday evening, several washed-out streets in Highland Falls remained impassable, leaving some residents stuck in their homes but otherwise OK, Police Chief Frank Basile said in a telephone interview.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said there were reports of flooding in central and western Massachusetts and that state emergency management officials were in touch with local authorities.

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point was pounded with more than 8 inches (20.32 centimeters) of rain that sent debris sliding onto some roads and washed others out. Superintendent Lt. Gen. Steven W. Gilland said recently arrived new cadets and others at the historic academy on the Hudson River were safe, but that assessing the damage will take time.

Atmospheric scientists say destructive flooding events across the globe have this in common: Storms are forming in a warmer atmosphere, making extreme rainfall a reality right now. The additional warming that scientists predict is coming will only make it worse.

The storm also interrupted air and rail travel. There were hundreds of flight cancellations at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports and more than 200 canceled at Boston’s Logan Airport in the last 24 hours, according to the Flightaware website. Amtrak temporarily suspended service between Albany and New York.

Swift water rescue teams in Vermont have done more than 50 rescues, mainly in the southern and central areas of the state, Vermont Emergency Management said Monday night.

Among the buildings flooded Monday was the Weston Playhouse in Weston, Vermont, which had been performing “Buddy -- The Buddy Holly Story” to sold-out audiences.

The Weston Theater Company’s executive artistic director Susanna Gellert said the call was made at around 4 a.m. to evacuate 11 people associated with the production to higher ground and another 15 in nearby Ludlow. The three-floor playhouse, which had been damaged during Irene, was also flooded, with the dressing room and props room under water.

“As a theater, we were just starting to get back from the COVID shutdown,” Gellert said. “To have this happen right now is painfully heartbreaking.”

Cara Philbin, 37, of Ludlow, Vermont, was awakened by a neighbor early Monday and told to clear out of her second-floor apartment because the parking lot was already flooded.

“He told me me, ‘You need to get out of here ... your car is going to float away, and I suggest you do not stay,’” said Philbin. The neighbor took her car keys and moved her car to a higher spot, while she called her parents and then drove to their home to ride out the storm, she said.

Ross Andrews and his wife were driving back home to Calais, Vermont, on Monday when he saw trucks parked at a 230-year-old dam with crews trying to keep it from failing. There were trees down everywhere.
“The interstate was closed right at our exit. Our road was closed right at our driveway. We managed to thread our way back just in the nick of time,” he said.

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