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As Recovery Continues In Norwich, State Requests FEMA Assessment For Flood Damage

Turnpike Road in Norwich was damaged during flash flooding this past summer. VPR's Howard Weiss-Tisman spoke to "Vermont Edition" about his recent stories looking at flood insurance.
Rebecca Sananes
A chasm on Turnpike Road in Norwich is leftover from recent flash flooding that left widespread infrastucture damage.

The state is requesting the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct a damage assessment after several Vermont counties were impacted in recent flash floods. Norwich was one of the hardest hit areas and continues to deal with the aftermath.

When you drive up Turnpike Road in Norwich, mud season warning signs are back in place. That's because flash flooding hit the area last weekend, causing massive damage to roads.

Main roads look like demolition sites. Some houses have no access to roads, their bridges and culverts blasted out by raging water.

Tallies from Vermont Emergency Management show over $2 million worth of damage is accounted for around the state due to the recent storms, but that number is growing.

The state of Vermont is asking FEMA to confirm the assessed statewide damage. In order to qualify for federal assistance, there needs to be over $1 million worth of damage to be eligible for reimbursement.

In Norwich, backhoes are out all over town, filling ditches and sinkholes, repairing the damages left by 3 inches of rain that fell in a matter of hours.

Dorothy Gannon lives on Upper Turnpike Road, and while that road is almost completely repaired now, Gannon says that as of Saturday, it was entirely washed out.

"When I arrived here on Saturday night, this whole section was gone," Gannon said, walking toward a freshly graveled driveway.

"That was gone, the road was gone, [there was] nothing there – just a big expanse of rubble," she points out, talking over the humming of a small backhoe finishing patching the torn-up ground.

A Norwich home on Turnpike Road is inaccessible by road after its bridge and culvert were destroyed.
Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR
A Norwich home on Turnpike Road is inaccessible by road after its bridge and culvert were destroyed.

Gannon said she had to park her car down the street from her house and that she "had to kind of pick my way in and get back to the house."

Gannon has lived on Upper Turnpike Road for the past 10 years, and she says a lot of areas in the Upper Valley were devastated by Tropical Storm Irene back in 2011. But Gannon said this most recent storm had far greater impact, even though there was measurably less rainfall.

"It's just a lot of rain that fell in a very short period of time, and the infrastructure couldn't really handle it," Gannon said, standing near the now tame stream that had devastated her road.

"Basically everything was completely intact after Irene – just, night and day," she reflected.

Several miles away in the Norwich town center, Phil Dechert, the acting town manager of Norwich, agreed.

"It was actually quite a bit more damage it appears than in Irene, and I'm not exactly sure why, whether it was more water in a shorter time," Dechert said, thumbing through images of one-lane roads across the town.

"It was actually quite a bit more damage it appears than in Irene, and I'm not exactly sure why, whether it was more water in a shorter time." - Phil Dechert, Norwich's acting town manager

However Dechert said he can't officially confirm that the damages sustained in the recent flooding are worse than in Irene because state officials are just finishing up their assessment of damage in Norwich. The official monetary number has yet to be tallied, but Dechert expects to have more information next week.

For the most part though, Dechert says measures put in place after Irene to mitigate damage held up in recent storms.

"We had one or two areas where there was a repeat failure, and that's something that we're going to have to look at carefully on the engineering and see why it didn't hold and what we can do differently," Dechert said. "But I think overall, the newer infrastructure that's been built I think held up quite well."

Norwich will continue to work on repairing roads over the next couple weeks.

Rebecca Sananes was VPR's Upper Valley Reporter. Before joining the VPR Newsroom, she was the Graduate Fellow at WBUR and a researcher on a Frontline documentary.
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