Plainfield woman recounts losing her 200-year-old house to the Winooski River
Karen Meisner and her family, who lived in a 200-year-old home in Plainfield, experienced this week's flood as fully as any family might. They spent the night upstairs, while the Winooski River tore through the downstairs. Vermont Public's Erica Heilman caught up with Meisner while she was staying temporarily with a friend in East Montpelier.
Note: This story was produced for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio, but have provided a transcript below. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Karen: We had this beautiful, 200-year-old house, and it's in a floodplain. So we knew that we were going to get water in the basement, you know, we expected that. And once it became clear that he was going to overflow the riverbanks the river just decided to take a short cut. Instead of going around our place, it went through. It just flew straight through our house like a riptide. The water was four feet high inside before we opened the doors. Once we opened the doors, it started moving...
Erica: Where were you?
Karen: We were on the second floor mostly. At night, while the water was still rising in the darkness, we heard the roaring sound all around us, and we couldn't see out and we had no electricity. And we could only imagine because it was already well through the first floor. And it felt like we were in an aquarium. And if the glass broke, fish and sharks would come sliding into our bedroom. It was that immediate that it was just outside and it was really, really, really loud. And it was water. You don't think of water is being so forceful, but my God, it is.
Erica: I mean, your entire house was surrounded.
Karen: Oh, surrounded and busted through — and just the power of it. When the river comes rushing through. It was like a riptide.
Erica: You spent the night above the flood, above the river which was on your first floor, and you were upstairs.
Karen: We heard it roaring, it was like being in the center of a whirlpool. If we stepped outside, it was up to our waists, we would have to be holding on to things or we would be we would be pulled off our feet. Absolutely everything on the first floor was just thrown around. And every bit of furniture we found in other rooms, things on our porch are at the far end of the field. And everything is just covered in mud.
"The river just decided to take a short cut. Instead of going around our place, it went through. It just flew straight through our house like a riptide. The water was four feet high inside before we opened the doors. Once we opened the doors, it started moving."Karen Meisner
Erica: Were you worried that the house was going to collapse?
Karen: I'm still worried that it's going to collapse. I don't know how stable the foundations are. Now. They're all soggy and, you know, completely soaked through and there's more water coming. The house has stood there for 200 years. It's a brick house. We really kind of felt like it stood here for 200 years, it can take whatever is coming to it. But I don't think that this has ever happened in its 200 year history that the river went through it.
And the neighbors know we got hit probably the hardest of the local surroundings. And they've, they're over there right now with my husband carrying furniture out to the driveway.
Erica: Is it too early to say what your plans are?
Karen: We were thinking about this in the first five minutes, when we realized that the flood was going to destroy the house. I mean, the one thing that was clear to us right away, once the river overflowed the banks, was that however long the house has been there and however beautiful and wonderful a place it is, the way the topography is now the way, the climate is changing, it's really just not a place where people should probably be living. It's gonna keep happening.
And I think we're still absorbing the fact that we just lost the house, because we did. We just lost the house. So I'm not sure that's sort of a tomorrow problem or next week problem.
"However long the house has been there and however beautiful and wonderful a place it is the way the topography is now the way, the climate is changing, it's really just not a place where people should probably be living."Karen Meisner
Erica: Are you going to stay in Vermont?
Karen: I love Vermont. I love Vermont. And honestly, this disaster has made me love Vermont more. Because everybody's in crisis and all of the, all of the services that you might normally be able to rely on are in crisis. So to get from here to there, it's like this Rube Goldberg machinery of "OK, this person across the street has jumper cables. And so we can borrow the jumper cables and go to our friend who's got a car with a dead battery and jump the car and maybe I can borrow that car if we can" ... you know.
But it takes all of these moving parts. And the parts aren't the institutions, because the institutions are overworked. The parts are individual people just stepping up to help. And that part is working amazingly. And it really makes me appreciate... It's very, very Vermont and it's very — it's what I want in a neighborhood. And it's what we've got — along with, you know, a river, where our house used to be.
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Flooding recovery assistance and other key resources
- To apply for federal financial assistance, visit disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.
- Is your community under a boil-water notice? Find a statewide list here.
- For state road closure information, visit newengland511.org or @511VT on Twitter. To check the status of your town's local roads, consult your town website or social media.
- School activities and child care program closures are collected here.
- Find the latest forecasts and water levels for specific rivers from the National Weather Service.
- Are you returning to flooded property? Get tips on what to expect and how to stay safe while cleaning your home or car and how to deal with trash and debris.
- Here are tips for avoiding scams that can crop up after a disaster.
- Flood safety tips have been translated into 16 languages here.
- The Vermont Professionals of Color Network is connecting BIPOC Vermonters with recovery assistance.
- Business owners can find tips and resources from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
- To find more resources, visit vermont.gov/flood, vermont211.org or call Vermont 2-1-1.
- You can also report flood damage to 2-1-1 to help the state gather data, according to Vermont Emergency Management. (If you are a homeowner, you should also contact your insurance company.)
- The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has provided a resource page for farmers.
- Find the latest guidance about how to help with recovery.