‘Can’t Get There From Here’

Storm Stories: An account from the Vermont disaster

Route 4 East

Route 4 East

(Ed’s note: See a related story on Powder.com, from Quechee, Vt., HERE.)

By Tim Mutrie

The storm didn’t seem like much at the time. “It was not impressive. It was totally underwhelming. It was not a driving rainstorm. It was just constant. And it was constant for so long,” an old friend told me via cellphone yesterday from Killington, Vt. (pop. 1,095).

He’d been stuck up at the resort, along with hundreds of others, during Irene. “Couldn’t go east, couldn’t go west, couldn’t go north, couldn’t go south,” my friend said. The stranded visitors, including many flat-landers who fled places like New York City in hopes of dodging the storm, escaped Killington yesterday morning with help from authorities, ski resort employees and good Samaritans.

Surveying the scene yesterday, my friend said: “It’s totally nuts. It’s a disaster zone. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” He added, “Local shops are running low on food, especially beer.” He described debris piles with gas and propane tanks, high-voltage wires, trees and vehicles.

Route 100 North

Route 100 North

Killington, the resort, isn’t allowing regular sorts of employees to speak publicly about the scene up there—”That being said, we’ve got people up here looking all around the place,” my friend said—and efforts to contact resort PR officials were unsuccessful.

“The real story isn’t Killington,” my friend said, “it’s the surrounding area. The whole Rt. 100 corridor is just decimated. Rt. 4 to Woodstock is bad, but Rt. 100 is really rough.” He named the towns of Pittsfield, Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, Plymouth and Rochester. “I heard they just flew in 40,000 MREs [Meals Ready to Eat] to Rochester. It’s just an island. They can’t get 4-wheelers or trucks or anything up there,” he said. “I’m hearing Bridgewater Corner is the most decimated, but I haven’t been down there myself.”

The Killington resort had also sent food and supplies to neighboring communities, he said. And while people are coming out of the woodwork to help others, the scene isn’t exactly Norman Rockwell. “The Vermont emergency services is not up to snuff. Communities are being left to themselves to coordinate, and that’s tough to do without Internet or phones. It’s all word of mouth. Can you get up north? OK, where can you get? We’re all just getting feedback from each other,” he said, adding, “I guess I don’t really know what to expect—maybe they’d be driving around with a bullhorn or something. But we’ve got cops stuck here and cops stuck elsewhere, and same with the emergency responders and disaster responders.”

He sent me a few camera phone photos that he captured, noting in a text, “My others are on my camera: No power or computer to send with; server down.”

Killington has established an emergency shelter at a local school, and other neighboring communities were dedicating libraries to the same, he said. “The state guys can’t get here with their trucks, but we’ve got a local contractor, working on his own accord, moving debris from the road. Neighbors are helping neighbors patch things up. Disaster is bringing out the best and the worst. Some people are rising to the occasion, others are melting down. This is a natural disaster and people need food and water, and if they’ve gotta go across your lawn, well, that’s what they’re gonna do,” he said. “We’re all trying to help people out, but man it’s really something to see.”

My friend characterized the damage to the ski resort as manageable. But floodwaters did take out the SuperStar Pub, adjacent to the K-1 lodge, and pack four-feet of gravel around the Sky Ship Lodge at the base of the Killington gondola.

What's left of the SuperStar Pub, at Killington. Note truck at lower left corner.

What's left of the SuperStar Pub, at Killington. Note truck at lower left corner.

Sunday: “It started raining at 2 in the morning and by 9 it was really starting to build. By 11, it all went to hell. The culverts weren’t plugged, they were just overwhelmed. It was dead calm on the mountain, no wind, and we didn’t have any down trees except for the ones that eroded. They said it was 12 inches of rain,” he said.

“Believe it or not, there’s a five-foot culvert under [the SuperStar] pub. … Basically the floor just dropped out of it, and the building collapsed under its own weight,” he said.

“You couldn’t go west to Rutland because Rt. 4 was out by the Sugarhouse road. And you couldn’t go east to Bridgewater because there was a torrent that took out a house on Rt. 4; in its place, there’s now a river. And you couldn’t go north on 100 because two bridges washed out. And you couldn’t go south on 100 or 100a, because, A., you couldn’t even get there,” he said.

Yesterday, he said, “Things are opening up,” and guests of the veritable Hotel California were finally able to depart. This afternoon, he added: “I’m optimistic, based on what I’ve seen the last three days. Things are coming together.”

It was sunny yesterday further north yesterday, in Montpelier, Vt. “Just gorgeous and not even breezy,” Jen Butson said from Ski Vermont headquarters. She said while Killington seems to have taken the brunt of Irene among Vermont’s ski areas, Sugarbush sustained damage to a snowmaking pond.

"I keep saying—and I keep hear my elders keep saying—I haven't seen this in my entire life. The good thing is we're darn hardy people. And I'm hearing about and seeing neighbors coming together. People are jumping to get people the things they need. Skiing will come later. It's really about helping our friends out now."

“Things are drying out. Cruising around, you wouldn't have known things were all wet the day before, were the grass not so disheveled,” she said. “Here at work, the only thing is the hallway reeks.”