Tuesday, August 30, 2011

hurricane, part one: the waters rise

Some brief scenes from the middle of the storm on Sunday. Reprinted with permission from the Valley News.

Standing in the rain in an empty parking lot outside the Red Cross emergency shelter at Hartford High School, Kristie Potter embraced her boyfriend, Kam McIntyre.
The couple, along with three of Potter's children and their beagle, Cash, had just been evacuated from their home at the Riverside Mobile Home Park in Woodstock, which, by all accounts, was completely submerged by the Ottauquechee River.
“There were cars floating down the river, people who can't get out,” said Potter as she stepped inside, her eyes red. “My father just called and said our trailer is underwater.”
As she spoke, her 11-year-old son, Lane Lowery, came up and hugged her.
“Mom, is our trailer damaged at all?” he said, looking up with wide eyes.
“Yes,” Potter said.
“How bad?”
“Bad enough,” she said. “Bad enough that we can't live in it anymore.”
Potter said she didn't have insurance on the mobile home, which, as she and her family fled, had already been swept by the rising water and pinned against a tree in the neighbor's yard. The home normally sits about 100 feet from the river.
Her parents were still stranded in their car at the highest point in the park, waiting for a boat to come rescue them, she said.
“We had to go the long way around” to get to Hartford, Potter continued. They drove their '98 Saab through as much as two feet of water to get to the shelter. “There were a couple spots where Kam shouted, ‘Should we go for it?' and I said, ‘Gun it. Go. Otherwise we’re not getting out.’”
Potter had enough time to grab some extra clothes, her laptop and a hard drive full of photos before being evacuated, she said.
“And our dog. We couldn't really fit much in the car with all five of us in there.”
Standing in the still-quiet shelter at about 3:30 p.m. yesterday, Potter contemplated her family's future. “We don't know how long we’re going to have to stay here,” she said. “We’ve just got to regroup and figure out what to do next. We're all safe.”
“And that’s all that matters,” Lane chimed in.

In Woodstock, where Route 4 hugs the Green, a policewoman (who declined to give her name) stood in front of a line of cars with their headlights on, windshield wipers rhythmically sweeping away the rain.
“Where you heading today?” she asked each driver who stopped and rolled down a window. “I'm sorry, that's not possible. There’s a shelter at the elementary school on Route 106.”
Residents from Bridgewater, Pomfret and Barnard on their way home were stranded in Woodstock, including one woman who had come to Cumberland Farms to get snacks and wasn't allowed to drive back home because of swiftly rising water. The woman stormed angrily out of the emergency shelter at Woodstock Elementary School, muttering, “They should've told me” as she strode back into the rain.
“I don't think anyone anticipated this,” said Christine Blaiklock, a special education teacher at the school who abandoned her own flooding home on River Road to volunteer at the school. “It's a crisis.”
As she spoke around 5:45 p.m., around 20 people had already sought refuge at the shelter, but the Red Cross hadn't yet arrived. Blaiklock and Principal Karen White were doing their best to help those who came in, but all they were able to offer was whatever information had been passed to them, along with a telephone and some granola bars and drinking water from the local fire department.
Barefoot and drenched, 18-year-old Tiffany LaRocque had walked across town to see if she could help, while 15-year-old Alexandra Raymond stood next to Blaiklock, offering what little information she could.
“The entire trailer park got wiped out,” Raymond commented. “And the high school flooded. We saw all the soccer nets go by. The river came up our backyard, and a transformer blew and caught a tree on fire, but the tree fell into the river.”
“There are people in Bridgewater we haven't been able to get a hold of to see if they're alright,” LaRocque added.
Nancy Kendall, of Bridgewater, had been on a biking trip in Montreal with her husband, Ernest, when they heard a storm was on its way. They drove home, but after sitting in the car for hours, couldn't get farther than Woodstock. For a while, the couple thought they were stranded: cell phones not working, roads closed all around them. They thought they were going to have to sleep in their car in a parking lot.
“Hallelujah you're here,” Kendall said to Blaiklock. “We feel so grateful.”

Across from the makeshift shelter, David Olds stood drinking a beer at the bar of the Woodstock Inn. Around him, some people seemed to be reveling in the unexpected adventure, drinking beer and wine out of plastic cups, helping themselves to the cold buffet, laughing quietly in the candlelight that lit the room. Others sat alone, heads in hands.
“We're going to have a lot of clean-up to do,” said Olds, a custodian at the inn's racquet and fitness center. The inn's first floor was flooded as Olds spoke around 6 p.m. The generator was submerged as well, and staff rushed around, trying to assess the situation and keep guests as happy as possible.
“They're doing the best they can,” Olds said.
Olds, 26, had been evacuated from company housing at about 3 p.m. and said he would likely spend the night at the inn without running water or electricity. Some guests were trying to get back to the highway, cutting short their vacations. Others had little choice but to ride out the weather.
“Here we are,” Olds said with a shrug. “We'll see what happens. At least the (beer) taps are still working.”

In Taftsville, Kerry Rosenthal stood under an umbrella and watched the roaring water of Happy Brook inch closer to the front door of the house she rents along its banks. Though her initial comment to the situation was a blurted expletive, Rosenthal seemed to be taking the damage in stride.
“I'm not worried,” she said. “I got my guitars out. As long as I have him” -- she gestured to her boyfriend, Eric Fritz -- “and my guitars, I'm good.”
Rosenthal said she would likely spend the night at Fritz's house, also in Taftsville. His power was out, but the house was on higher ground and it seemed, for the time being, as though it would be safe from the floodwaters raging in the Ottauquechee and its tributaries.
Just up the road, a crowd had gathered next to the Taftsville Bridge, which has stood above the Ottauquechee since 1836. Some residents feared it wouldn't last the night.
Some barefoot, others in rain boots, some huddling under umbrellas and others clad in brightly-colored rain gear, people stood in small groups with their friends and neighbors and watched what Windsor resident Dan Cowdrey called “mother nature's raw power.”
“I'm admiring the beauty,” Cowdrey said while snapping pictures of the trees, tires and propane gas tanks tearing through the brown torrent beneath him. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I don't want to miss it.”
“I didn't expect to see so many propane tanks floating down the river,” he added. The air was rank with the scent of propane, apparently from what Cowdrey estimated to be a hundred or more tanks from the flooded yard of Dead River Propane company. (Dead River officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.)
Cowdrey wasn't concerned about his own home flooding, though getting home could prove difficult, he said. “That might be the trick.”

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