Tag Archives: Vermont

Reflections on Hurricane Irene and the Climate Connection

The community of Waterbury, VT begins clean-up after Irene hit the state on Tuesday, August 30, 2012. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

Note: Last month I was asked to submit photographs for an upcoming book on Hurricane (Tropical Storm) Irene and its impact on Vermont.  I was requested to provide numerous photos from my Photo Essay from Vermont: The Recovery from Hurricane Irene Begins.  Quite a few of my shots will be published.

I sent the following article along with the photos.  It won’t be published for various reasons, so I thought I should share it with Climate Connections.

Today is April 17, 2012. Two days ago was the normal date for Lake Iroquois, where I live and wrote this piece, to be free of ice.  Yesterday, the temperature here reached the mid-eighties.  It also was my 61st birthday. (I’ve seen a lot in my life so far and I expect life on the Earth to become much more difficult due to climate chaos and the possibility of total ecological collapse.)

I wrote the following for a mainstream readership, so it may not be as radical as our Climate Connections readers have come to expect, but I do believe that the last few paragraphs which touch on community promote the revolutionary concepts of mutual aid and justice.  Those are just a few of the traits necessary to help build a movement to stop the onslaught of the Earth and its inhabitants by the tiny one percent neoliberal criminals.

-Orin Langelle for GJEP

Irene and the Climate Connection

Lake Iroquois, VT   US           March 19, 2012

This is the last official day of winter.  This afternoon I looked at our thermometer and it was 81 F degrees in the shade.

My partner, Anne Petermann, and I have lived in a cottage on Lake Iroquois in Hinesburg, VT for the past fifteen years.  A few years ago the lake’s ice melt was on the 31st of March.  I spoke with some long-time residents about the early ice melt that year and they could not remember Iroquois’ water open that early.  This year, on St. Patrick’s Day, people were water skiing on the lake—they should have been ice fishing or enjoying another winter sport.

Many of us did not go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing this season. We’ve seen some plumes of smoke coming from sugar shacks this month, but suffice it to say people who make maple sugar are not happy.

In the beginning of this month record-breaking tornadoes swept through the US, breaking records for the entire month.

Last year on top of Irene we were hit with floods that washed over many of the shores of Lake Champlain.  Crops were ruined from heavy flooding on VT Rivers.

Besides being the board Chair of Global Justice Ecology Project, I’m a photojournalist.  I’ve been working on climate related issues for years, starting with Hurricane Mitch that struck Nicaragua in 1998.  I’ve covered UN climate conventions since 2004 and listened to first hand accounts of extreme weather globally by people that are feeling its impacts.  We know people in the small islands of the Pacific whose land is disappearing.

Migrations of people and animals are taking place over the Earth right now because of the weather.

We must recognize that extreme weather is occurring.  And its pace is quickening.

I’m originally from Missouri and when the massive EF5 tornado devastated Joplin, MO last May, and for the fact that I’m a photojournalist working on climate, I almost went.  Anne, who also works on climate issues, talked me into staying in VT, saying unfortunately I’d get a chance to photograph extreme weather damage in VT.  Little did we know that it would happen so fast with Irene.

In beginning of the aftermath, the day after in fact, Anne and I photographed and interviewed military personnel from Camp Johnson, where the National Guard was mobilizing and FEMA was beginning to arrive.  We ended up later that day on a road to Grafton, one of the towns that were cut off from ground transportation.  We went as far as we could go.

Between going to Camp Johnson and ending up on a washed out road near Grafton, we spent most of our time in Waterbury.  As you can see [from my photo] essay), most of Waterbury was just beginning recovery from Irene.  People who lost everything were helping each other.  The community was uniting.  The community came together in an emergency.

Was Irene cause by the changing climate?  To me quite certainly, but in the end it is up for you to decide.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states, “Recent scientific evidence suggests a link between the destructive power (or intensity) of hurricanes and higher ocean temperatures, driven…by global warming.”

It is evident to many of us that for far too long industrial civilization has been belching carbon into the atmosphere.  Is it to late to stop the damage that has already been done?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  But real change needs to start happening now.

Most communities come together in emergencies—all over the world.  It is a shame though that it takes disaster for most people in communities to work hand in hand for their common good. Maybe it’s time for real community to come together–not just when disaster hits–but all of the time.  Maybe then we can find real solutions that we the people talk about and decide.

But maybe real community is just a dreamer’s utopia.  Someone has to dream though, or everyone’s dream may become a nightmare.

Orin Langelle is the board chair for Global Justice Ecology Project and is a photojournalist now editing four decades of his concerned photography.

 

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Filed under Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle

Photo Essay from Vermont: The Recovery from Hurricane Irene Begins

As of Tuesday, 30 August 2011, there were still thirteen towns in the U.S. state of Vermont that were completely cut off from the outside world due to the torrential rains of Hurricane Irene.  This was because roads like Route 100, which runs north and south through the state, sustained catastrophic damage to its culverts and bridges for many miles.    In all, over 200 roads across the state were closed due to wash outs from the heavy rains that pelted the state for nearly twenty-four hours on Sunday, August 28.

Route 100--this and other washed out bridges and culverts cut off the town of Granville, VT from the outside world

Text: Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

Photos: Orin Langelle, Co-Director/Strategist, Global Justice Ecology Project

Orin Langelle and I toured a portion of our home state of Vermont on Tuesday, 30 August to witness and document some of the destruction that Hurricane Irene had left in its wake.  Though it was downgraded to a “tropical storm” by the time it reached Vermont, its torrential rains wreaked havoc around the state.  Where we live, we had been quite fortunate and only lost electricity for twenty-three hours or so.  Other parts of the state were far less lucky.  During our travels, however, we witnessed the resiliency of Vermonters, who tackled their own loss or the loss of their neighbors, not only with fortitude, but also with humor and a very New England-like matter of fact-ness.

The post-flood clean up effort begins in Waterbury, VT

Our journey began at Camp Johnson in Colchester, where the Vermont National Guard is stationed, to see what an official governmental response looked like.  Vermont’s National Guard sustained the heaviest losses per capita of any U.S. state during the occupation of Iraq.  Like many Vermont National Guardsmen, the young soldier we spoke with, Nathan Rivard of Enosburg Falls, explained that responding to the needs of his neighbors during disasters like Irene that was the reason he had joined the Guard.  The response to the storm was, he felt, the real story in Vermont. “It’s people helping people,” he explained.  “Not just the disaster, but how people respond after.”

VT National Guard personnel prepare relief packages

The Vermont National Guard responded while the storm was still raging to help Vermonters caught off guard by the inundation of water.  Before the sun was up on Tuesday morning, thirty FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) tractor-trailers had arrived at the National Guard’s Camp Johnson with water, ready to eat meals, blankets, cots and other supplies.

FEMA personnel prepare temporary shelters

Because of the widespread road damage, however, getting the supplies to the people who need them has been extremely challenging.  With thirteen towns completely cut off from the outside world, National Guard helicopters have been almost the only way to get help in from the outside—either in the form of medical assistance or basic necessities like food and water.

National Guard medical helicopter

The ability of the government to help over the long term, however, is highly uncertain as the number of natural disasters in the U.S. over the past year has severely depleted FEMA’s budget.

[Note:  We asked the VT National Guard what communities in VT were receiving supplies from the Guard  so we could document distribution.  We were never given that information.]

The People Pull Together

From Camp Johnson, we headed to Waterbury, where Vermont’s state offices are located–and sustained heavy flood damage.  Waterbury was submerged under 10 feet or more of water when the Winooski River rose to record flood levels in minutes.  Even the state’s emergency management office succumbed to the flooding waters and had to relocate to Burlington—the state’s largest city.  When Irene hit Sunday, WDEV (Radio Vermont) stayed on the air all day and night with a generator, despite losing power from the grid and their internet connection.  While a commercial station, they remain dedicated to their community.  WDEV provided valuable information to residents about flooding damage and impassable roads during the disaster.  See Democracy Now! for an interview with the WDEV station owner.

This photo shows the high water mark from the flood in Waterbury

By Tuesday, volunteers and neighbors were pouring support into the community.

At the first house we came to on Elm Street, one of the streets where the flooding had been the worst, a group was sharing stories about the scene on Sunday.  Their front yard was heaped with ruined debris.  The home’s owner explained to us that the water in the apartment he rented downstairs had been up to his shoulders.  He explained that he wouldn’t even be able to start dealing with the damage to the house until the insurance agent arrived—which wouldn’t be until Friday.

But, he emphasized, the outpouring of support had been amazing.  Restaurants were donating food to the relief effort, and a bus full of “Youth Build” participants had arrived earlier that day to pitch in.  “If you didn’t know there was a flood, you’d think it was a block party,” he explained with a smile.

Inside the house, it was easy to see just how destructive the flood had been.  Kitchen appliances were covered in mud, while at one end of what had presumably been the living room, a happy birthday sign still hung.  In another room, mud covered baby toys littered the floor.

A Happy Birthday sign still hangs on the wall

Cars did not fare well either during the flood.

Around the corner on Randall Street, the activity of clearing homes of debris and salvaging what could be salvaged was still under way.

Huge dumpsters lined the street and debris was being piled according to type with electronics in one pile, hazardous materials (mostly paint, stain and household chemicals) in another, and everything else going in the dumpsters.

We came across one woman who picked up a white jug and sighed, “this was an antique,” as she poured muddy water out of a gaping hole in its side.  “Oh well,” she said.  “It’s just stuff, right?” then chucked it into the dumpster.  “Bye.”

For some people the loss was clearly overwhelming.  Others got to work cleaning what could be cleaned.

Coming up the road we encountered three intrepid children, helping out the best they could by giving out bottles of water.  They were very serious about their job, asking everyone they met if they wanted something to drink.

Among the ruins were tarps laid out with items that had been salvaged and washed, drying in the sun.  Many people managed to tackle the mess with a positive attitude.

From Waterbury, we headed down Route 100—one of the hardest hit roads in the state.  Not far down the road, we came to Moretown, were the Mad River had lived up to its name.

Bridge over the Mad River, severely damaged by the flood

The Mad River, now back to its calm, pristine self, had become a raging torrent on Sunday, shutting down Route 100B and flooding the Village Cemetery.

Workers repair the bridge over Route 100B in Moretown

The cemetery fence was buckling under the weight of the flood debris that was caught in its chain links and many headstones had been flattened—including those of the entire Philemon Family (dating back to 1865) and Bulkley Family (dating back to 1822).

Across the street, another home was half-hidden by debris with a lonely pair of mud-covered rubber boots testifying to the people that had lived there.

Further down Route 100, on the border of Waitsfield and Warren, the Mad River had taken out half of the road.

Nearby, American Flatbread, a unique and very popular Mad River Valley institution featuring an outdoor bonfire, indoor clay flatbread oven and walls covered with Bread and Puppet art, had also succumbed to the raging mud.  As we passed, teams of people were pitching in to help clean out the mess.

Our final stop on Route 100, where we could go no further, was at the border of Warren and Granville.  The road was washed out.  Route 100 further to the south was closed due to water, and Route 125, the only link to the west, was also impassable.  This left the towns of Granville, Hancock and Rochester, all located along Rte 100, cut off from the outside world.

At the roadblock we spoke with some electrical workers who were trying to get to the town of Rochester.  They had been talking with the road worker at the wash out to see how they might travel south.  “We’re based in South Royalton,” one electrical worker explained.  “We’ve been trying to get to Rochester all day. They’re without power and we’re trying to get in to fix it.  We tried to get to Rochester from the South but couldn’t get in. Now we’re trying to get in from the North, but that’s not working either.  We’re going to try some small dirt roads now to see if we can get around these wash outs.”

The Mad River near Granville--not so mad anymore

While the record devastation around Vermont has been catastrophic to many communities, the spirit of collective teamwork that we experienced on our journey gave us a hopeful glimpse of what is possible and the mountains that can be moved when people pull together.  As we head into the uncertain future of escalating climate chaos and extreme weather, this spirit may be the one thing that enables communities to come together to find local, small scale, ecologically sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.

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Filed under Climate Change, Climate Justice, Natural Disasters, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, Posts from Anne Petermann, Water