“I was in Brattleboro,” Cunningham-Darrah remembers of the day of the flood. Her father Todd Darrah, the owner of the Chelsea Royal Diner, had called her in to lend an extra hand in the kitchen. “He told me the Red Cross had asked him to start making food, and he thought it was some kind of joke,” she recalls.
Boisvert, meanwhile, was at her home on Ray Hill Road in Wilmington. “I woke up to water coming into my room,” she says. Though her house was well above the most violent flooding raging through the center of town, enough rain had fallen that water was still streaming into her home. Curious to see the damage on Main Street, she went for a drive down Ray Hill Road and parked near Dot’s. “I didn’t realize how bad it was.”
“My mom always over-exaggerates the weather,” says Cunningham-Darrah. “I wanted to go to a concert that night, but she said I wasn’t allowed.”
At the Chelsea Royal, the seriousness of the storm quickly became clear as Cunningham-Darrah received a stream of pictures and messages on her cell phone. “Friends were calling me and crying,” she says. “Everybody was shocked. No one thought this could happen.” Cunningham-Darrah showed people in the diner pictures of where their homes used to be. She and the other valley residents at the diner were stuck at the foot of the mountain as the main roads washed out. It would be two days before she could return home to her mother’s house in East Dover.
In Wilmington, Boisvert and her family heard that a young woman was missing. Once the rain settled down, she, her father, and her brother split up to search around town. Sarah would be the one to discover the body of the woman, Ivana Taseva, in a field near Deerfield Valley Elementary School.
“I was beside myself,” says Boisvert. “It was a tragic day. There’s no other way to explain it, growing up where nothing is changing. Since I grew up here, I know pretty much everyone in town. It was awful. No one knew what to say that day because everyone was so in shock.”
Both Cunningham-Darrah and Boisvert became heavily involved with volunteer efforts in the immediate aftermath of the flood, joining other residents of the valley as well as groups that had traveled from around the country to assist in the cleanup effort.
Cunningham-Darrah wove her way up the mountain via backroads and wound up at Twin Valley High School, the center of the volunteer effort. Both she and Boisvert were assigned to help in the cleanup of the Wilmington Home Center.
“Once I got there,” says Cunningham-Darrah, “everything was very well organized. You got a mask, bags, gloves. I didn’t know anyone at the Wilmington Home Center, but everyone banded together, including out-of-staters.”
In the weeks and months following Irene, both Cunningham-Darrah and Boisvert noted, a spirit of shared hope and community flavored conversations and initiatives in Wilmington.
“It’s how our town has always been,” says Boisvert. “We’ll always be there for each other. It was a negative experience at the time, but it made me grow and become stronger as a person and wound up being a positive thing in my life.”
As Wilmington moves forward, the memory of Irene still lingers. Cunningham-Darrah, who currently works at Bartleby’s Books on Main Street, fields questions every day about the flood, and often she finds herself explaining that, no, tourists cannot grab lunch at Dot’s.
She is currently helping to put together a book filled with stories and pictures looking back on Irene and hopes to see it finished sometime in the fall.
“I don’t think the community has changed,” she says. “The town has changed, people are adapting to that, and it’s kind of quiet down here, but the community has only gotten stronger. It’s not a good thing that the flood happened to us, but I think we were able to handle it better than other towns might have.”
Looking forward, both girls hope to see Wilmington return to a state of normalcy.
“I’d like to see more rebuilding,” says Boisvert, “and I think we should keep it the same as it was before. The town is historical, and a lot of people were born here and still live here. Keep the history here. It would be upsetting to see a bunch of new things.”
“When I come back from college,” says Cunningham-Darrah, whose freshman year of college—along with Boisvert’s—starts in a few days, “I hope to see something like Dot’s was, a town center, and businesses up and running.”
“Being able to recover is a strong quality of our community,” Boisvert says. “It’s been amazing to watch and experience, and it makes me proud to be a part of this community.”