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Feeling déjà vu, Gov. Phil Scott urges caution as floodwaters crest through the night

A photo of people in reflective vests unloading bags from a green truck in front of a brick building in the rain.
Zoe McDonald
Vermont Public
Montpelier's Department of Public Works was filling sandbags on Monday that residents can pick up at the "Volunteer Hub" in front of City Hall.

Gov. Phil Scott told flood-weary Vermonters on Monday night that this week’s storm will not be on the “same scale” as July’s disaster, but will still deliver a “gut punch” to many of the communities hardest-hit this summer.

“As we continue the recovery from this summer’s flooding, I know this is the last thing Vermonters want to see right now,” the governor said during a press conference in Berlin.

The worst will likely come overnight, officials cautioned. Rivers, swollen by a combination of heavy rain and early season snowmelt, are expected to crest this evening and into the early hours.

Scott said that early assessments suggest that the damage from this flooding will be less severe but more widespread than the summer flooding, which largely played out in southern and central Vermont.

“Hopefully it won’t be as extreme as July, but time will tell,” Scott said. “We will get through the night and be able to answer that better tomorrow. It’s somewhat the same as what we saw in July, but it seems to (be) expanded, from my standpoint, geographically.”

During his 24-minute press conference, Scott acknowledged he was shaken by images of flooding today in some of the communities – Montpelier, Barre, and Londonderry in particular – still reeling from July’s historic storm.

The Red Cross has again opened a shelter in the Barre Auditorium. Seven swift water rescue teams have been positioned across Vermont, and some have already seen action. Three people were rescued from a home in Jamaica today, and one person was pulled from a vehicle in Waterbury.

At least one other rescue operation was underway at the time of the press conference. Officials offered no reports of injuries or fatalities.

Across Vermont, 15 roads were closed and 34 were partially closed as of 4 p.m., Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn said.

Almost every corner of the state has felt some impact of the rain and melting snow on Monday.

Moretown Village residents were ordered to evacuate their homes, Waitsfield residents were told to stay put, Montpelier residents were advised to move their vehicles to higher ground, and Waterbury residents were informed that flooding in their ever-vulnerable downtown was, once again, inevitable.

St. Johnsbury motorists dodged a mudslide, West Brattleboro mobile home residents once again left their homes in a hurry, and Hardwick town crews planned to keep vigil over the Lamoille River once more.

Get the latest flooding updates from Vermont Public's liveblog.

The governor said that the state had been prepared for the storm. But he acknowledged he was personally surprised by its severity.

‘We didn’t expect this elevation, to the amount of water we are seeing right now,” Scott said.

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said several dams on the Winooski River watershed, including the Wrightsville Dam, are not as imperiled as they were over the summer, though rivers are still rising. But the Waterbury Reservoir is already higher than it was this summer, Moore said.

The echoes of July were inescapable on Monday. Scott took the podium only hoursafter news broke that FEMA was abandoning plans for a temporary housing site in Montpelier that was to have been one of the major recovery initiatives from the July storm.

Towards the end of the press conference, a reporter asked Scott if he had reached out to FEMA for assistance today. The governor said he hadn’t yet.

“Obviously,” he said, “they’re still here.”

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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.
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