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Otter Creek rises in Middlebury, nearby Ripton homes hit by landslide

 A brown river flows next to a large gray stone building and is threatening to flood the building.
Jane Lindholm
Vermont Public
The Otter Creek has passed flood stage and is threatening to jump its banks near the historic Stone Mill building in downtown Middlebury.

This post was updated at 4:55 p.m. with additional information from Ripton and updated flood projections.

The focus of Vermont's flooding emergency shifted to Addison County on Saturday. The Otter Creek in Middlebury has been rising since this morning, and a landslide Friday night hit several homes in Ripton.

According to the National Weather Service, one Ripton home was destroyed and several others were impacted by a landslide around 10:30 p.m. Friday. Tim Hanson, a member of the Ripton selectboard and the town's road commissioner, said “maybe between five and 10” houses were evacuated in the middle of the night.

Meanwhile, the weather service issued a flood warning for the Otter Creek in nearby Middlebury. The river surpassed flood stage overnight and is now over seven feet. It is expected to crest Monday morning, according to weather service projections. (The Middlebury River, which runs through Ripton, is a tributary of the Otter Creek.)

In Ripton, Hanson said one woman injured her leg during the landslide, and her home is a "total write-off."

"And the fire chief, god bless his heart ... was out there going up and down that road trying to evacuate people at two o'clock in the morning, saying, 'You need to get out, the river's high,'" Hanson said.

According to Hanson, as the fire chief was talking to the owner of one of the homes along the river, “The hill cut loose. And they evacuated very quickly because they lost their, you know, it just pushed the house off the foundation."

The other houses that were evacuated are still standing, but Hanson said it is unlikely that homeowners will be able to return to them any time soon.

With more rain in the forecast, Hanson is worried that Ripton is still at risk of further damage.

“If we get, you know, a couple more inches in an hour, we'll be, you know, we'll be patching other holes … I mean, there's some forecasts calling for two to four inches. If that happens, I think we might slide into the catastrophic, financially catastrophic."

Nestled in between East Middlebury and Hancock in the Green Mountains, Ripton has a population of 739 people.

"People in Montpelier and D.C. need to understand that … some of this stuff is not sustainable for small towns,” Hanson said. “I don't know how we're going to keep our infrastructure open if this continues. It's really really expensive and scary."

Hanson did get one piece of good news as he was on the phone with a reporter: "Power came back, hooray!"

Meanwhile, in downtown Middlebury this morning, businesses and residents warily eyed the rising Otter Creek.

Chelsea Lattrell is a manager at The Mad Taco, one of several businesses located in the Stone Mill, a building that dates to 1840 and sits alongside the Otter Creek.

"We're not sure what we can do," Lattrell said at the restaurant Saturday morning. "Obviously our goal is to figure something out in case it rises. Middlebury is built on a hill, but for all of the businesses... all of us that are close to the Otter Creek on the lower level are now pretty concerned that it's going to jump the bank and affect us. We're just a little concerned, rightfully so."

Flooding recovery assistance and other key resources

View or share a printable PDF version of these resources.

      Mark Davis has spent more than a decade working as a reporter in Vermont, focusing on both daily and long-form stories. Prior joining Vermont Public as assistant news director, he worked for five years at Seven Days, the alt-weekly in Burlington, where he won national awards for his criminal justice reporting. Before that, he spent nine years at the Valley News, where won state and national awards for his coverage of the criminal justice system, Topical Storm Irene, and other topics. He has also served as a producer and editor for the Rumblestrip podcast. He graduated from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
      Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
      Josh Crane is part of Vermont Public's Engagement Journalism team. He's the senior producer and managing editor for Brave Little State, a podcast based on questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by the audience, and runs Vermont Public's Sonic ID project.
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