ANDOVER, Vt. (AP) — A storm that dumped up to two months of rain in two days in Vermont and other parts of the Northeast brought more flooding Tuesday to communities marooned by water, including the state capital, where officials kept watch on a dam just upstream.
There were signs of hope in some areas with flood waters beginning to recede, and officials began assessing the damage and the scope of the clean-up ahead.
The flooding has already caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, officials said, with more to come: If water pours over the dam on the Winooski River that flows through Montpelier, it could surge through downtown blocks where the floods were already waist-high.
City officials said Tuesday afternoon, however, they had not seen any significant changes in the water levels at the dam, but would continue to monitor it.
“Floodwaters continue to rise in some places, like our capital city, and have surpassed the levels seen during Tropical Storm Irene,” Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said. Irene killed six people in Vermont in August 2011, washing homes off their foundations and damaging or destroying more than 200 bridges and 500 miles (805 kilometers) of highway.
The sun was out Tuesday and more sunshine was expected Wednesday. But more rain was forecast Thursday and Friday.
“We are not out of the woods,” Scott said. “This is nowhere near over.” He tweeted that the roads around his house were impassable Tuesday morning, so he had to hike through the woods to reach the state’s emergency response center.
Montpelier Police said just before noon that waters had risen to within a foot of the top of the dam, and that every foot of water that goes over the spillway would double the flow into the city. But city officials later said they hadn’t seen any significant changes in the water levels since then. They said they would continue to monitor it through the night.
One woman was swept away in New York. There have been no reports of injuries or deaths related to the flooding in Vermont, where swift-water rescue teams aided by National Guard helicopter crews have done more than 100 rescues, Vermont Emergency Management said Tuesday.
That included an “extremely high-risk rescue” by a visiting New Hampshire team, of a person who decided to drive around a barricaded road, said Mike Cannon of Vermont Urban Search and Rescue. “The car was washed off the roadway almost into the river,” he said, urging drivers to pay attention to road closures.
Dozens of roads and highways were closed, including many along the spine of the Green Mountains, and flash flood warnings and advisories were in effect for much of the state, from the Massachusetts line to Canada.
Downtown Montpelier, a city of 8,000, was swamped between the capitol building and the Winooski River. Montpelier Town Manager Bill Fraser warned that the Wrightsville Dam several miles to the north could exceed capacity for the first time.
“There would be a large amount of water coming into Montpelier which would drastically add to the existing flood damage,” he said, adding that there are very few evacuation options remaining. “People in at risk areas may wish to go to upper floors in their houses.”
Multiple rescue crews were positioned in Montpelier, where dispatch, police and fire operations were relocated to a water treatment plant after heavy flooding at City Hall and the police and fire departments. Also, the radio towers they use for emergency calls are not functional, Police Chief Eric Nordenson said.
Bryan Pfeiffer, a biologist who has lived in the Montpelier area for four decades, canoed around the downtown area on Tuesday to check out the damage and was appalled by what he saw.
“It’s heartbreaking to see my city flooded like this,” said Pfeiffer, whose home is on higher ground. The basement of every building — including the one where he works — and the lower levels of most were inundated by water that reached near the tops of the parking meters.
Shelters were set up at churches, town halls and the Barre Municipal Auditorium, where delivering food to the more than 200 people taking refuge there was a challenge. “We’re trying to find paths to get supplies in to them,” said John Montes, American Red Cross of Northern New England regional disaster officer.
The slow-moving storm reached New England after hitting parts of New York and Connecticut on Sunday. Some communities received between 7 and 9 inches (18 centimeters and 23 centimeters) of rain by Monday night. Towns in southwest New Hampshire had heavy flooding and road washouts, and the Connecticut River was was expected to crest above flood stage Wednesday in Hartford and towns to the south.
President Joe Biden, attending the annual NATO summit in Lithuania, declared an emergency for Vermont and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance. He also spoke with the governor and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
FEMA sent a team to Vermont, along with emergency communications equipment, and is prepared to keep shelters supplied if the state requests it. The agency also is monitoring flooding in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, regional spokesperson Dennis Pinkham said Tuesday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre urged people on Tuesday “to please, please be safe, and follow safety protocols.”
Road crews cleared debris Tuesday, reopening Interstate 89 as it follows the river between Montpelier and Middlesex. Rescuers from North Carolina, Michigan and Connecticut joined Vermonters in among those reaching towns that had been isolated since torrents of rain began belting the state.
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 with her dog in the hamlet of Fort Montgomery.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point was pounded with more than 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain that sent debris sliding onto some roads and washed others out.
“They’re calling this a ‘1,000 year event,’” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a briefing on a muddy street in Highland Falls, just south of the academy on the west bank of the Hudson River.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator Richard Spinrad said Tuesday that 13.7 million people were under inland flooding alerts on Tuesday. Atmospheric scientists say destructive flooding events happen more frequently as storms form in a warmer atmosphere, and the planet’s rising temperatures will only make it worse.
Minchillo reported from Highland Falls, New York. Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; and Mark Pratt and Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed.