Reporting from Brattleboro, Vt., and New York—
Rippling creeks became deluges. Bridges collapsed into roiling waves. Streets turned into fast-rising lakes, closing in around stunned towns that never knew they might be in the path of a tropical storm expected to drench the coast, not the countryside.
But while Irene unleashed its initial damage as a hurricane along the sandy shores of the Eastern Seaboard, by Monday its greatest impact was felt far from the coastline, in places like landlocked Vermont and the bucolic mountains of upstate New York.
“It was a raging torrent,” Scott Towle of Brattleboro, Vt., said of the normally benign Whetstone Brook, which runs near his house and rose with terrifying speed Sunday when as much as 8 inches of rain fell in six hours.
Photos: In the storm’s path
“You could hear boulders, trees, everything going down,” said Towle, who on Monday joined other locals at a bridge downtown watching the swollen Connecticut River rush past. “It took out the road; it took out a couple of houses; it took out a bridge.”
“It was roaring,” said Richard Hodgdon, whose backyard turned into a lake as the Whetstone Brook filled up. “It came past the house on both sides. It was flowing right down [the street]. … When we saw how fast it was rising, we had never seen that before.”
Hodgdon, his wife and their dog got out as the water filled their garage and their basement. The heavy furniture on their patio floated away to a neighbor’s driveway, next to a red barn that seemed to be on the verge of collapse Monday. A nearby footbridge that weighs more than a ton was lifted “like a toothpick” and carried downstream, said Hodgdon, who looked out at his lawn — now a sheet of mud.
“It’s hard to believe. It’s so peaceful today,” he said as the sun shined on the sludge-covered scene.
On the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in Louisiana, the chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, said officials had learned from the aftermath of that storm.
“We can’t wait to know how bad it is before we get ready,” Fugate said, noting that the evacuation orders and emergency teams’ preparations for Hurricane Irene contrasted dramatically with the after-the-fact scramble that marked FEMA’s Katrina response.