Even though Hurricane Irene was a distant memory, I felt the same apprehension I did on the evening of July 10 as I did back in 2011 when my neighbor told me she had already left town to get to higher ground.
It had been an average, if not excessively rainy weekend; we could never have guessed it was the sign of an impending catastrophe.
But the rain was really just the beginning.
As the day was coming to an end, I began hearing a strange noise coming from the basement of our Montpelier home that seemed to be getting louder and louder. The gravity of the situation suddenly sank in when I opened the door.
Brown river water was cascading from a hole in the wall onto the unfinished dirt floor. Although the basement area was wide and spacious, the water was already beginning to climb the first step. My family and I sprung to action trying to contact our landlord, but I was worried it was too late to do anything. Roads out of town had started to close and rivers were starting to burst through their banks.
Would we be able to get out if we needed to? Was it worth risking our lives to go anywhere but here?
The landlord told us plainly that we’d probably be okay staying put but my husband pointed out that if the flooding touched the breaker on the wall, with its exposed wires, it would electrify the water and the power would have to be cut.
There wasn’t a single hotel within 30 minutes of us with a vacancy. Besides, we have three pets we’d need to bring with us as well. We ultimately had no choice but to stay.
In hindsight, I don’t know if I would have taken the same risk again, but at the time, both choices were potentially very dangerous. I don’t remember sleeping well that night at all.
The next morning was bright and sunny.
It felt like any other day of the week; I had heard my husband get up early and assumed he had left for work and my daughter woke up later by herself as she always did. The dog was missing from his crate, however.
I didn’t look in the basement first thing because I was too anxious about what I might see.
Instead, there were voices coming from the front door.
That’s when I see it.
Everywhere I look has been turned into a knee-deep muddy lake. From the church parking lot in the backyard to the funeral home outside our living room window. It was a surreal experience.
Out front, my husband, dog, and brother-in-law are standing in the small dry part of the driveway trying to verbally guide a shoeless traveler who’s just fallen into the sullied water toward a hopefully safer path.
Someone casually rows a canoe down School Street.
We don’t see just people coming through but some animals too. A skunk that lives under the neighbor’s porch splashes playfully along the asphalt shore.
It all left sooner than it had come. By the time the sun had set on the very same day the lake was gone, and things begin to look familiar again. But that too didn’t last long.
Then came the trash.
Mountains of it were piled up like innards in front of the gutted stores on Main Street into soggy, rotting piles. Whole neighborhoods banded together to help strip their neighbor’s homes of ruined carpet, soiled furniture and broken appliances.
The Kellogg-Hubbard library’s pile, one of the biggest I saw, was mostly books and tapes. Decades of treasures, memories, hopes and aspirations all gone over the course of day and then left to rot for weeks on the side of the road as sad reminders. It didn’t change when you left town either.
A week after the flood, I talked to a cashier at a pharmacy in Barre who told me, as lighthearted as she could, that she had lost her home along with most of her stuff. Nearly a month after that, an older man at the Wayside diner casually mentioned to us and the waitress that his house still didn’t have hot water, but he supposed it didn’t matter because he had decided to leave Vermont for good this time.
Hope may slowly be returning, but it was a reminder for many who had lived through the same experiences that some memories don’t fade even over time.