Spirit of Vermonters Remains Hopeful in Midst of Disaster

PHOTO: House in Killington Vt. washed off foundation after flooding from Irene
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It's been four days since Tropical Storm Irene's incessant rains turned Vermont streams into destructive torrents of rushing water, tearing down roads and buildings.

It's a true disaster zone here. Roughly 30 bridges remain closed; including all four of the major east-west passes over the spine of the Green Mountains south of I-89 -- with many sections of road completely washed away.

At the height of the storm more than 260 roads in Vermont were closed and four historic covered bridged have been lost.

Even four days later, rivers and streams are running down the middle of what had been paved asphalt.

Route 4, a major byway through central Vermont and the highway leading to Pico and Killington peaks, has a gaping hole in its three-lane highway and a 50-foot drop off to one side.

Utility crews have worked around the clock to restore power to isolated communities.

At one point, 72,000 Vermonters were without power.

Crews have had to build temporary roads just to reach towns such as Rochester, where a major electrical substation was moved off its foundation, knocking out power to that town of 1,100.

Hardly anyone in these mountain towns was spared.

I'm writing from my publisher's dining room table in Rutland.

Our offices in Killington have been cut off since Sunday, with roads made impassable from all sides. Killington town is an island; residents and visitors are unable to travel except by emergency helicopters.

Correspondents have told us that our newspaper building is still standing, but they've guessed the basement is flooded to the ceiling.

Still, I feel lucky. The white house just down the road was swept away by the small creek turned raging river.

Through it all, however, Vermonters have demonstrated their unique resilience and community.

In Pittsfield, a few miles north of Killington, a community barbeque was hosted by Jason Evans, owner of the Clear River Tavern, to feed the 400 townspeople stranded there.

Free spaghetti dinners are being offered nightly at the Killington Elementary School.

A group of locals brought food and medical supplies to Rochester by horseback and neighbors have opened their doors to friends who've lost homes.

Hotels with generators have offered shelter and a hot shower and hundreds have gathered for impromptu town assemblies where townspeople discuss the best way to ration their collective food, gas and medical supplies until reinforcements can be brought in.

There are, in short, many stories that brighten the day and lift spirits, even in the midst of disaster.

Though Vermonters are used to washed out roads and power outages, the devastation caused by Irene will amount to one of the worst disasters since the flood of 1927.

Yesterday, we learned that the estimated cost for repairing roads and bridges statewide is approaching a billion dollars. With a population of only 625,000 -- about as big as a mid-size American city -- to finance even the state's typical share of such a burden will be devastating to the families and business owners who have already lost so much.

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