With multiple drownings in fast-moving rivers in recent days, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on July 5 warned residents to be extremely cautious about trying to beat the heat at their favorite swimming hole.
“That river you thought you always knew, it’s not the same as it was two weeks ago,” Shumlin said in a phone interview.
Shumlin spoke hours after a Vermont State Police dive team joined a Middlebury rescue crew to pull the body of 26-year-old Steven Orvis from the New Haven River in Bristol.
Orvis disappeared on July 4, two days after 16-year-old Jesse Belcher of Barre died in a similar swimming accident in the swollen Stevens Branch in Barre.
Meanwhile, last Friday, state and local road crews were scrambling to repair wash-outs, clear blocked culverts and make other repairs. Officials said Vermont’s northern- and southern-most counties escaped the worst damage, with most of it concentrated in Chittenden, Washington, Addison, Lamoille and Windsor counties.
“Vermont’s totally saturated. We’ve had extensive damage to both municipal and state roads,” Shumlin said. “And the bad news is that we have a similar weather pattern projected through (July 11).”
Temperatures above 80 degrees, dew points topping a sticky, sweat-inducing 70 percent punctuated by heavy rains in the afternoon and evening have become a regular feature in Vermont in recent weeks. Fourth of July festivities were washed out or forced indoors in many places, just as some Memorial Day events had been.
Flooding also damaged railroad tracks in Roxbury, forcing Amtrak to switch passengers to buses last Thursday and Friday between Springfield, Mass. and St. Albans.
The tracks themselves held up well; what washed away was the ground beneath them, said Vermont Transportation Agency Assistant Director Trini Brassard. She said tracks and track beds had been upgraded since Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
“What saved us in this and in Irene is all the upgrade work we did. The ties and the rail didn’t go anywhere. What we’ve been losing is the rail bed and culvert,” Brassard said.
Shumlin said officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be in Vermont on July 9 to assess damage and determine what aid might be available.
Officials were watching Lake Champlain carefully. It was reported at 99.58 feet at midday on July 5, just under its 100-foot flood stage. That could create problems both for shoreline properties and, if a south wind kicks up, for major roads at the north end of the lake, including U.S. Route 2.
But conditions weren’t bothering Hadley Clark, who answered the phone at her parents’ Ladd Landing Marina in Grand Isle on July 5.
“Our driveway’s getting a little washed-out, but other than that we’re pretty good,” she said. “We can launch boats with deeper keels from the ramp … And bigger sailboats can get in closer to shore.”
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