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Stories from The Flood

The view of Elm Street and Main Street from Cliff Street on July 11. Photo by John Lazenby.
We wanted to hear your stories about what you experienced in the immediate days and weeks after the July 10 and 11 flood, so we asked. The stories below are a sampling of what we received. We know that everyone has an individual story, and we hope to provide more of these in the weeks to come. Send us your flood story by emailing editor@montpelierbridge.com.

‘The Only Sacred Ground I Have Ever Known’

We live partway up Elm Street with the North Branch bordering our yard. We woke up to three-quarters of our yard underwater on Monday morning (July 10). It got deeper and dirtier and inched closer to our house all day. It was challenging as a parent of a ten year old, to be diligently preparing for the worst case scenario. We did a bucket brigade when the sump pump failed, bringing life jackets inside the house before we went to bed, all while trying to stay grounded and keep them from freaking out. 

I didn’t sleep much that first night, and we got the call at dawn about [the city] potentially opening the spillway on the dam and to go to the second floor! In the end we did not get water beyond the basement, but it took me about a week to really begin to come down from the anxiety, the physical exertion, and the adrenaline of it all. We sprang right into helping friends on Tuesday afternoon, which was emotional and exhausting as well. A week later I was singing with friends and one song had the chorus, “This is my home, this is my only home. This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known…” and I just lost it. All these tears that I’d been holding for nine days came out like the spillway of Wrightsville that never actually opened up. I really needed that release, I just hadn’t slowed down enough to let it happen. 

Liza Earle-Centers, Montpelier

Before realizing that the flood water was likely contaminated, the Earle-Centers’ picked some of their higher up blueberries. Photo by Liza Earle-Centers.

Grateful for Volunteers

In my apartment building on Saint Paul Street, four basements were flooded. I had no idea what to do until I saw the Montpelier Alive volunteer sign up sheet. I signed up for volunteers needed. Young and old showed up to help. They worked so hard going up and down the basement stairs dragging heavy wet bags and totes of all of our personal belongings that we lost. 

I don’t know what I would have done without them! I had to actually turn some volunteers away because we got it done in about six hours. I’m SO grateful that I cannot express my gratitude enough. 

Mary Boyce, Montpelier

Shara Sullivan sat amid her belongings and the mud in front of her family’s house on Second Street in Barre on July 12. Photo by John Lazenby.
Katie Swick stands amid the flood-damaged items and construction debris pulled from her house on Elm Street on July 14. Photo by John Lazenby.

The Forgotten Neighborhood

Ed Haggett returned from a trip to Groton to find his State Street home of 45 years filled with silt and his belongings destroyed after the flood. Photo by Ed Haggett.
I rent a camp at Lake Groton every year. So I was at camp that Saturday with no internet. I picked up a few things as the NOAA weather chart said 9.9 feet. The riverbank is 15 feet. Much to my surprise it crested at 21.35 feet. After 46 years living there I watch the chart and depend on it. I was surprised as to how wrong they were!

I went in alone on Wednesday as I couldn’t bear to be with my daughter as it is her childhood home. Six inches of very slippery silt awaited me in my driveway. I opened the garage door and couldn’t even get in as all of my belongings were tossed around the house all wet and covered in mud. Luckily a wonderful young couple helped me clear a path through.

The four houses from 193 to 201 State Street were the hardest hit by the flood according to the planning director and zoning person with the city along with a state flood expert who visited me. 

 We are the “forgotten” neighborhood just before [Green Mount Cemetery]. I have lived there for 45 years and lost everything on my 70th birthday! It is amazing that my extensive perennial garden, which was covered by eight feet of water and mud, survived and is at peak blooming.

Ed Haggett, Montpelier

Kathy Smith of Bolton sorts through items in her mother’s flood-ravaged home at the Berlin Mobile Home Park, Saturday, July 22. Photo by John Lazenby. 

Adieu, Mes Chers

Our soft old comfortable morning fog

rises over the Winooski


as if nothing happened last week.

Yet biers of memories line our streets.

Higher than I can reach,

on and on.

Library books we read at night,

chairs we sat on at Hugo’s,

and Three Penny, and Bohemian;

bicycles fixed at Onion River.

Remembering candies from Delish,

the rarities at Quirky,

and at brand-new Awe;

lazy coffees at Capitol Grounds

and tea at North Branch.

Racks explored at Rebel and Althea,

Spicy lunches at Wilaiwans,

Hours in those booths at Julio’s.

Do you remember first trying

those incredible chairs

now piled outside Capitol Theater?

And four generations of our family

sat in those venerable chairs

of Yankee Clipper.

Exploring Woodbury Mountain,

Jewelry pondered at Katie’s.

Music at Sweet Melissa’s,

pool at Charlie-O’s,

pretty much everything at Aubuchon’s,

lightning speed at Capitol Copy,

It is the reverse of a funeral line:

each pile fills me with memories

and farewells.

Would we could torch the biers

in grief-filled solidarity

sending off a hero’s adieu.

Yet even without ashes

our phoenix city shall arise.

It is our people, not our things,

that are most precious.

Sandy Vitzhum, Montpelier

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders conferred with shop owners on State Street after the flood waters receded. Photo by John Lazenby.

Support the Volunteers and Contractors

I haven’t been affected personally by flood damage in my home, but the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, where I work, has sustained substantial damage. Just across the street from the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, we have also benefited from an outpouring of community support, with volunteers from the entire Montpelier community stopping by to help clear out damaged items, clean and scrub every possible surface, assess damages, etc. 

Since I typically work from my church office, and our building is currently closed, I’ve returned to working predominantly from home, as I had done during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lock-downs. However, since I don’t have an ideal work-from-home space, I began frequently walking from my home to a local cafe/restaurant (once they reopened), to work while enjoying a cup of tea. 

What I have been most disturbed/affected by on these walks has been the toxicity of the air and spaces immediately surrounding the overwhelming piles of debris I needed to pass when walking through downtown — with many of the piles rising high above my head. Even with a mask on, I found myself coughing and gagging as I passed each one. 

My heart has been breaking not just for the outward appearance of our downtown area, with so much dust and debris everywhere, but more for the volunteers and workers who have been placing themselves in such seriously dangerous conditions, as they have come together en masse to make the work go by much more quickly than it ever could have if everyone just ‘waited for the professionals.’ 

I truly hope that the volunteers and paid contractors are all able to stay as safe as possible while cleaning and repairing our town, and that all of us who are unable to be exposed to those conditions will be able and willing to do everything we are able to do to support those putting themselves at risk.

Elaine Ball, Montpelier

North Branch Cafe owner Lauren Parker hugs former employee Jamie Carroll after a day filled with cleaning out the cafe’s wet, muddy State Street basement on Wednesday, July 12. Photo by John Lazenby.

Never in My Life

I live on a dead-end street in Northfield and also along a river. I have never in my life experienced anything like this before. I am a city girl, so flooding is something I never knew. Until now. We hear the bang at the door by the fire department doing evacuations. However, I will not leave my animals. So I stay.

Not too long after, the river starts to come on to the road at the dead-end area, which is a little higher on the street than where I live. Before you know it, the road is completely engulfed and you no longer know a road was even there. We have water coming from that hill, the hill on the other side of us and from the hill behind us. We are hit from all sides. Never in my life did I ever think I would stand in my basement and see our stuff floating by us. My husband’s full metal tool box floats by like it weighs the same as a feather. It was surreal. 

Seeing photos that others posted of mudslides, collapsed roads, and cars, sheds, etc. being carried away was like nothing I have ever seen. It’s something I will never forget. On the positive note, I was amazed to see how everyone came together to help each other. The outpouring of love from neighbors was amazing. I never knew what Vermont Strong really meant when I moved here. But now … I truly understand.

Francisca Massey, Northfield

Members of a swiftwater rescue team plucked two women from the water on State Street on July 11. Photo by John Lazenby.

Roxbury Road Crew Rocks!

The bridge on our town road washed away Monday. Called the town office on Tuesday morning. Road crew on site by 10 a.m. The remains of the old bridge were removed, and a sturdy footbridge was installed by the end of the afternoon. We were driving over a new bridge by 6 p.m. Saturday, only four days later! Wow! Roxbury road crew rocks! 

Lori Holt, East Roxbury

A disoriented fawn, wet and shivering on Route 2 in Middlesex, was stuck between the rising Winooski River and Interstate 89 on Monday afternoon, July 10. Photo by John Lazenby.

‘We’re F***ed’ 

I am the Quirky Pet Store Husband. The eve of the cresting, about 7:30 p.m. or so, we slogged downtown through the Main Street water to [Cindra’s] shop on State. By the time we arrived, the water was already to the bottom of the front window. The alcove between the Quirky Pet and Delish was seriously taking on water. As a result, there was puddling in the front of the shop by the door. Wearing high boots, Cindra made her way to the rear door on Langdon. Doing the logical thing, she bunched the rugs by the front door to stop the entrance of water. Before she left, as an afterthought, she decided to turn on the light to the basement. The water was already five steps from the top six hours before the crest. Meeting me on State, I asked her “Well?” She looked me straight in the eye and delivered the classic deadpan two word summation. “We’re fucked.” 

Concerned that she might become despondent, I lamely asked “What do you intend to do?” Her totally calm response was totally in character. “I intend to go back home and drink some wine.” Two minutes later, at the corner of State and Main, she can’t see the curb and falls full body into the storm water. As she got up, Jeb Wallace-Brodeur snaps the picture that would go across the AP and be reprinted as ‘THE Montpelier flood picture’ in scores of newspapers across the country with her actually being name checked to top it off — me holding an umbrella, and her appearing to be not 5’2” but 2’5”. Collectively, this defined a really bad night that more than merited a warm change of clothes and a calming glass of white wine. 

Richard Sheir, Quirky Pet Store Husband, Montpelier

The Quirky Pet owner Cindra Conison, right, and her husband Richard Sheir leave their shop on Monday night, July 10, 2023, in downtown Montpelier. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur for the Times Argus.
A mud-smeared bucket brigade passes container after container of sodden flood-damaged material out of the basement at Trinity United Methodist Church on Main Street on a hot and humid Sunday morning, July 16. Photo by John Lazenby.

We Will Recover

As the rivers began to roar and the waters began to rise, I go outside to realize I had my own river forming behind my house, I bring soil and gravel bags from the garden to create a border, I dug a trench, placed towels around basement windows, my sump pump gets damaged, I start up the shop vac and began to suck out water for hours. For my immediate actions while soaked wet, I was fortunate to just have a few inches come in, rather than feet of water. Once it was all under control, I head to town, snap a photo while waist deep for our local newspaper and immediately began to assist with disaster relief. Our community has come together stronger than ever and we will recover. 

Gene Leon, Berlin Street, Montpelier

Suzy Ford of the local civic group Montpelier Alive waters flowers on July 20 despite being surrounded by flood debris in downtown Montpelier. Photo by John Lazenby.