More than 9 months after flooding, Vermont has yet to dry

A telephone pole leans on its side in Windsor County, Vermont on March 15, 2024.
A telephone pole leans on its side in Windsor County, Vermont on March 15, 2024.

Skyler Kim

Related Topics:
Infrastructure, Natural Disasters

Visitors passing along the freshly paved Vermont Route 131 are likely unaware of the chaos that occurred here last year.

But a closer look in the direction of Black River next to the road reveals the remnants of what some residents call the “Great Vermont Flood of 2023.” In July of last year, heavy rains inundated much of the state causing catastrophic flooding.

As of March of 2024, debris from dead trees are scattered everywhere; utility poles are leaning on their sides, bent low to the water on the verge of drowning. Just beyond this road, a state park remains closed; pits of exposed soil caused by large volumes of runoff are lacking vegetation, despite their location being within vast stretches of forest. 

The aftermath of the July flood at Camp Plymouth State Park consisted of exposed soil and damaged roads. The park remained closed until May 24, 2024, when it reopened for the first time in more than 10 months. (Skyler Kim)

Some community members in the surrounding towns seem to be at a similar state of recovery as Route 131. 

Chloe Perry, a resident of Wallingford, was left with a flooded home that was going to cost her $110,000 and nearly a year of labor to repair. The piles of debris were substantial enough for FEMA workers to say it was one of the worst-hit houses they’ve seen, according to Perry – yet all she received in aid was a $250 check. 

Perry, who also owns a bakery a few minutes from her home, is still recovering from those damages. “I got about two feet of water on the entire first floor of my home. So all my walls were ripped out, my floors were ripped out, [and] all my appliances died,” says Perry. The $110,000 estimate in losses drawn up by her flood insurance company did not cover any private belongings.

Chloe Perry sits by Otter Creek, the body of water that caused the flooding of her home.  (Skyler Kim)

To make matters worse, the high demand for contractors after the storm meant that Perry had to take on much of the labor herself. Thankfully, Perry hopes to be done with the repairs in the coming weeks.

A few towns over in Windsor, Vermont, Kimberley Friesenhahn and her husband Joseph experienced a sudden scare during the storm when nearly a dozen trees fell and struck her pig den in the backyard. Miraculously, all the pigs lived.

Kimberley Friesenhahn’s pigsty is left crushed by the trees that fell during the July 2023 storm. All pigs survived the incident. (Skyler Kim)

However, the damage has had a significant impact on her plans for her farmstead. “ It was expensive because we weren’t able to salvage the fencing that we had for them, which meant we had to go purchase all new fencing… it definitely puts a stress on the budget,” she said.

The pigs, which were an integral part of her plan to develop a silvo-pasture, a pasture that integrates trees, across the multi-acre woods beyond her current farmstead, may no longer serve a purpose for the Freisenhahns. “We just had to put all of those plans on hold… we just don’t feel comfortable allowing the animals in the forest,” she continued.

 Kimberley Friesenhahn explains the damage caused in her backyard, which was where the silvopasture was intended to take place. (Skyler Kim)

As climate patterns in Vermont progress toward wetter springs and summers, the floods aren’t the only concern for the Freisenhahns: more rain means less time out in the woods for the goats, as their hooves will be vulnerable to diseases if not kept dry. Damper grounds also mean looser soil, which translates to greater chances of trees falling, as last July demonstrated. This poses serious risks of following through with their plans for the silvopasture. After last July, the Friesenhahns decided to put a pause on their development plans for the farmstead.

Liza Welch, a friend of the Freisenhahns and the owners of BusyB Goat Farm and Apiary in Weathersfield, was met with the news that their usual supplier for hay was not able to produce any hay at all that summer. “As a farm, we have 53 animals. We usually have to source about 1600 bales of hay to get us through the winter,” Welch explained. “When I do that, I have a couple of different sources of hay. And I actually had three of our sources reach out to me [last year] and tell me that they couldn’t fulfill the promise.”

Liza Welch tends to her goats at her farm in Weathersfield on March 12, 2024. (Skyler Kim)

To those that have dealt with similar repercussions from the flooding as Perry or Freisenhahn, the issue now lies in the future of Vermont’s climate patterns. If such storms increase in frequency, it can only mean more trouble more often. “I own a bakery here. My kids go to school here. I can’t leave the area and there’s nothing else I can afford even within probably 200,000 of what I paid for my house,” says Perry. “I get flood warnings now and it sends me into a whole panic.”

And that panic was only validated with another heavy storm in December 2023 that added salt to the open wound for many residents. For Perry and her family, the second storm brought in another four feet of water into her basement. After the encounter with FEMA, Perry has not applied for any more aid.

On the brighter side, communities have come together more than ever over these last nine months, which Perry felt was important to emphasize. She highlighted the Wallingford Thrift Shop, explaining that the shop has taken the lead in helping those who have lost personal goods from the storm. 

Welch believes that such catastrophic events are only going to improve Vermont’s resilience, saying “Each time something like this happens, Vermont has taken a stance to be stronger and get more productive and more precautious. We do our best with what we’ve got and we overcome.”

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