Two years later

It's hard to believe that two years have already come and gone since Tropical Storm Irene announced her arrival in our neck of the woods by the patter of pouring rain. The well-advertised storm was no surprise although many worried about "Hurricane" Irene were probably expecting high winds that would knock down power lines and plunge the state into darkness. That however, was not the lady's main calling card. Rather, it was the flooding, which isolated and cut off entire communities or parts of communities from the broader world and which proved the main headache, and in a few cases, a deathtrap.

The scars of Irene are still visible around parts of the state. Drive along several east-west roads that traverse the spine of the Green Mountains, and the storm's ravages of riverbanks are still to be seen. In some places, as in nearby Jamaica, washed out bridges are only now nearing replacement. In Sunderland, the Kelly Stand, one of the state's truly historic and scenic roads, has yet to reopen. Few places were left untouched. Several large state facilities, such as the hospital in Waterbury, were put out of action all together. The final bill will certainly run into the hundreds of millions of dollars - perhaps more.

That the effect of the storm was not worse was due in large part to the resilience and teamwork of ordinary Vermonters, who like people everywhere when confronted with natural disasters of this sort, banded together to help each other out. Emergency work crews and National Guard units, some from here and many from out-of-state, arrived to help maintain order and restore power. State officials showed leadership by fast tracking repairs to roads and bridges to salvage the all-important foliage tourist season, without which many businesses would have been financially underwater, just as they finished pumping out Mother Nature's version. Short cuts may have been taken to get over the initial hump, but they were justified because of the circumstances. And somehow the state shrugged it off and moved on.

No doubt, some good lessons on disaster planning and management were learned by local officials. More importantly, we all got a chance to believe that when the chips were down, Vermonters of today proved the equal of earlier generations when it came to coping with and making it through a crisis. We learned we can do this. That may have been Irene's best gift, although that was far from clear on the morning of Aug. 28, 2011.


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