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Van Hoesen: Arc Of The Flood

09/06/11 7:55AM By John Van Hoesen
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Photo: Fred Sargeant
The Mill River as it started to come over the Cuttingsville Bridge on Route 103.

(Host) As the wrath of the flood came and went, an arc of emotion washed over all of us, but especially those in the direct line of the flooding. VPR's John Van Hoesen experienced first-hand the power of the flood and has this essay.

(Van Hoesen) I was conscious of the steady rain through the night on Saturday, and when I woke up on Sunday morning, the Mill River was so far non-threatening.

We have 15 years of experience with the river's behavior as it flows northwest under the Cuttingsville Bridge, within a stone's throw of the front door. The roar of the water, the thunder of moving rocks, the smell after a fresh rain - it's all familiar.

I was part of VPR's special coverage news team so I began my day with a tweet at 8:27: "Mill River in Rutland County turbulent, muddy, starting to rise."

But what wasn't usual, was how fast the river was rising. Foot by foot, the water covered the markers ... 6 feet, 8 feet, 10 feet and then to the point where I don't remember it ever getting any higher.

Shortly before 11, I tweeted that the river was splashing against the girders of the bridge.

Then up another few feet. And at 12:30 my last tweet ... Mill River starting to spill over onto Route 103...

In a flash, my world changed from journalist to flood victim.

It had been a morning of awe, which turned to something close to shock. Full size trees were flung at the bridge like a handful of pencils.

In the fury of the storm, a friend stops by ... do we need to be evacuated?

The mind tries to make fast and critical decisions. Should we go? How much water can we divert? Get the car to higher ground. 

All of a sudden, the shop across the highway was inundated, and inch by inch the river was surging at the yellow line of Route 103. And then over the crest of the road, rushing down the driveway, down the front yard and toward the front door.

The basement, always dry, sprang firehose-size leaks as the mortar popped out. With a five-gallon pail I got on my knees and pulled at the crushed stone to make a quick French drain. Within minutes I was overwhelmed by the gushers.

This might have been the first true sense of helplessness as I retreated up the stairs, water pouring in behind me.

So we stay, and watch and wait and worry. And eventually the waters surrounding us recede enough.

And we begin to assess. It's not the worst situation, by far. In comparison to so many others, we were lucky. We didn't lose a life, our home or livelihood, or even the first floor.

But we know what so many others are experiencing and it's a daunting job. Pump the basement, pull out the soggy remains of whatever was stored there, bleach everything, fix the furnace, run the biggest fan you can find.

Shovel up the silt ... so much gluey, mucky, smelly silt. We all call the rest the "debris," that weird combination of logs, trash, and even the unripened peppers from someone's garden upriver.

Put off some repairs to the barn until later.

Call the adjuster ... (did I have my blue flood handbook they sent me)? I did not.

You keep going, hour after hour, day after day, determined to find normal again. And more than once I admit to putting my head down on the picnic table to collect myself for the next wave.

The mud stays on your feet; and when the mud turns to dust it settles in your throat. With the sweat running off your back, it's a bad combination.

We became quick studies of the faces ... and had a keen perception of loss: the empty look on the young couple who lost their farmland, the anguish of the woman whose shoulders heaved outside her ruined home, the pain of our friend whose home was destroyed by fire.

The arc of emotions... It seems in almost any one moment we can experience awe, shock, worry, hope, compassion and determination.

Everyone wants normalcy back, and we're fortunate to be on the way. The other day, we borrowed a tractor and sawed up the last pile of logs and debris and took them away.

So we've noted the high water mark where the flood of 2011 challenged us. But it will be some time before even a gentle summer rain will evoke anything but the highs and lows of this disaster.

 

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