While not to the level of Tropical Storm Irene six years ago, and limited in scale, there is no doubt many folks around the region were reminded about the fury storms can unleash and how quickly they can cause damage and take a toll on infrastructure and people.
While flooding this weekend washed out a number of roads, it appears that most of southern Vermont was spared any significant damage. Certainly part of that can be contributed to the storm’s path, which appears to have crossed Vermont farther north.
But we also think part of the reason damage was limited locally can be attributed to the work done following Tropical Storm Irene. State and local governments worked hard after Irene to not only repair damage done by the flooding, but to make roads, bridges, culverts, and buildings more flood-resistant than they were before.
At least for this particular storm, those efforts appear to have paid off. Culverts and bridges were big enough to allow water to pass through, and streambeds and lakes that were bored out by Irene’s floods had enough capacity to keep the water within their banks.
As we said above, this weekend’s relatively minor flooding should once again confirm that we can never be too prepared for another event of the size and scale of Irene, or even bigger. No one wants to go through the trauma that Irene caused: devastating businesses, driving families out of their homes, and causing so much damage around the region that many are still recovering from its effects. While many structures have been rebuilt or refurbished, we know there are many who have been financially or emotionally scarred by the flooding caused by Irene. How long the healing will take is anyone’s guess.
Because of those lingering wounds, state and local officials need to continue to plan for the next large-scale disaster. That means emergency preparedness, shelters identified and ready to be opened at a moment’s notice, and communications systems and protocols established between various emergency-response agencies. Not only do officials need to prepare, but the public needs to hold leaders accountable to remain prepared. The public also needs to support these programs with their vote in support of government budgets or donations when asked for them.
So it’s really on all of us to remain vigilant. Of course that’s hard to do. Often we look for short-term solutions to long-term problems. But disaster preparedness requires a little bit of both. No one knows where the next monsoon storm’s path will take it. But we do know there is one out there waiting. It might not be this year, or the next, or even this decade.
It took more than seven decades for a flood to top the high-water mark on the town office building at the four corners in Wilmington. But eventually one did, and there’s no reason not to believe eventually one will top Irene’s 2011 mark. It’s just a matter of time. History bears that out, and regardless of one’s belief about global warming and its effects on weather, history doesn’t lie. Storms happen, floods happen, and the better prepared we as a community and a society are the more resilient we’ll be the next time a major flood hits the valley.
As Saturday’s storm reminds us, it is only a matter of time before another flood will occur. We need be be prepared, for our sake, our children’s sake, and our grandchildren’s sake.