UPDATE - Storm causes widespread flooding, damage

BENNINGTON - The remnants of Hurricane Irene failed to produce expected high winds but wreaked havoc on local waterways Sunday, collapsing a bridge in Woodford, washing out multiple roads and requiring numerous boat evacuations throughout the area.

Southern Vermont was battered by heavy, sustained rains, causing the Roaring Branch and Walloomsac Rivers to overspill their banks. The furious waters washed away banks and trees, and at least one vehicle on the Roaring Branch. Police and fire personnel scrambled to evacuate people Sunday afternoon as the water continued to rise and increased in power.

A span over the Roaring Branch on Route 9 partially collapsed around 3 p.m. Officials feared the retaining walls along the river near the intersection of North Branch and County Streets could give way. They evacuated the area of all residents and a large crowd of people that gathered to watch the river churn.

Trees felled by the river backed up under the Park Street bridge. The bridge could be felt "shuttering" from the powerful water, said Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette.

Meanwhile, water from the Walloomsac River poured onto Route 67A near the Paper Mill Bridge, washing out the road and requiring boat evacuations. Four firemen on a rescue mission there went under water with the person they were helping. They were later pulled from the water, but one fireman had to be resuscitated, according to officials.

The Walloomsac also washed away part of Silk Road near the Silk Road covered bridge. The fast moving waters moved concrete barriers. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said late Sunday afternoon that Bennington and Windham Counties were hit hard by the heavy rains, and counties to the north were bracing for the same.

"This is everything we hoped would not happen. Bennington and Windham County are an example of what's happening throughout the state," Shumlin said. "Every brook, every river, every lake is flooding. The message I'm sending out as loud and clear as I can is, 'This is devastating. We can rebuild and replace roads, we cannot replace life.'"

Shumlin urged people to use extreme caution and stay home. He said a young woman watching on the shores of the Deerfield River was swept away in Wilmington.

"We have a missing person in Wilmington that fell into the Deerfield River that we're extremely worried about. We cannot get rescue vehicles into Wilmington right now," he said.

The National Weather Service out of Albany, N.Y., reported four to eight inches of rainfall in the area, with higher localized amounts of up to 10 inches which led to flooding throughout Bennington.

The parking lots of Chilis, Hannaford grocery store and the Hampton Inn were under several feet of water. Several cars were nearly fully submerged. The North Bennington Fire Department Cold Water Rescue

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Team evacuated employees and guests at the Hampton Inn.

The CVS and Aldi grocery store, as well as Walmart and Price Chopper parking lots were also under water.

Bennington town officials declared a state of emergency in Bennington at 3:24 p.m. Most roads leading out of Bennington were closed, including major thoroughfares like Route 67.

Route 7 North remained open as an avenue for those seeking refuge at the American Red Cross shelter at Mount Anthony Union Middle School. More than 40 residents had taken shelter there by the early afternoon. "Basically, Bennington, except going north, is cut off," said Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette.

Flash flooding became the primary concern for local rescue officials, and a mandatory evacuation in Woodford was ordered early in the day after the Woodford dam threatened to overflow and the Roaring Brook surged over its banks, flooding homes all along Harbour Road and Route 7 East.

First responders evacuated residents from various low-lying areas throughout Bennington during the day. Crews from New York, that area less affected, were called to Vermont to assist.

Route 7 East was closed early in Wilmington, as were many major and minor roadways throughout Bennington County. The extreme weather came in doses during the afternoon, the area at times appearing calm in between renewed squalls.

"The trees are just falling one after another," said one responder as riverbanks eroded, causing trees lining area waterways to topple. Mark Bosma, public information officer for Vermont Emergency Management, reported "serious flood problems" and flash flooding in all areas of Vermont.

He said that along with extremely heavy rain, winds with 55 MPH gusts were taking down trees and power lines. Bosma said that flash flooding would continue into the day Monday. Throughout Sunday, multiple vehicles were reported swept out of driveways and into yards, roadways, and down engorged rivers. First responders' initial reports indicated that some looked occupied, but those reports turned out to be incorrect.

Trees knocked down power lines and transformers causing a fire in the woods behind Mount Anthony Union High School shortly after 1 p.m. Statewide more than 35,000 residences lost power, including more than 5,000 in Bennington County and nearly 12,000 in Windham County, Central Vermont Public Service reported.

Most area bridges were closed due to eroding banks and flooding. Two full-sized propane tanks were reported bobbing down the Roaring Branch from Woodford.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com and Zeke Wright at ewright@benningtonbanner.com.

Complete details in further updates and in Monday's Banner.


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