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“A Climate-Changed World”: Vermont Confronts Historic Flooding Again, 12 Years After Hurricane Irene

Written by on 12/07/2023

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we go to Vermont, where waters are starting to recede after catastrophic flooding inundated roads, homes and businesses. The flooding submerged much of Montpelier, the state’s capital. Parts of Vermont received two months of rain over a span of just days, stranding many people in their homes. Vermont officials say they’ve had to rescue a hundred people who were trapped by the worst flooding in a century.

We go now to Waterbury, Vermont, which was also hit hard, where we’re joined by David Goodman, my brother, an author, award-winning journalist, host of the public affairs podcast and radio show The Vermont Conversation. His new piece for the VTDigger is headlined “A flood-battered but wiser Waterbury rises from the ruins, again.” His books include When the River Rose: Stories of a Vermont Town’s Flood, Recovery, and Rebirth, also co-author of the new book The Community Schools Revolution: Building Partnerships, Transforming Lives, Advancing Democracy.

David, thanks so much for being with us. Can you explain what you’ve been out covering over this last day and how grave this is, what it means for Vermont?

DAVID GOODMAN: Well, hi, Amy, and thanks for having me and covering this.

The state has really been hammered. This is a — the governor has described it as historic and catastrophic floods. This is the second so-called hundred-year flood that has taken place in 12 years. My town, Waterbury, which is just about 15 minutes from the state capital, was submerged in 2011 after Hurricane Irene and again yesterday, although yesterday in Waterbury was not as devastating as it was. The state capital, Montpelier, was inundated yesterday, so the streets were completely flooded, also the neighboring city of Barre, and southern Vermont was also hit. So, there were up to nine inches of rain fell in parts of Vermont over the last few days.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David, have any of the flood resilience measures that were taken after 2011 to fortify buildings — did any of them hold up this time around?

DAVID GOODMAN: Well, it’s an interesting question, Juan. And in my town, in Waterbury, is home to the State Office Complex, which was nearly destroyed after Hurricane Irene, which was a $750 million rebuilding effort around the state and included rebuilding the State Office Complex with flood resiliency in mind. That meant removing earth, removing buildings. So, instead of trying to hold back a river in this climate-changed world, which is impossible, to allow rivers to spread out, and a number of other measures. The downtown increased the size of its drains. This was actually a long-running fight with FEMA after the flood of Hurricane Irene, because FEMA normally only replaces with what — it replaces exactly what was destroyed. And in a climate-changed world, that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work to put in the same small pipes.

So, at least in my town, a lot of those measures seemed to work. The state complex was spared. And our downtown was flooded, 40 homes were flooded, six businesses, but many of them were not as inundated as they were a dozen years ago. That is not the case in Montpelier and Barre, which really had historic destruction.

AMY GOODMAN: David, can you talk about what’s happened with unhoused people? You have the catastrophe for them of, at the end of the pandemic, many being put out of hotels that they were put into.

DAVID GOODMAN: I’m not hearing you.

AMY GOODMAN: David, can you hear me? Can you talk about the situation of the unhoused? There are thousands of unhoused in Vermont, many put in hotels, then put out of hotels, who then make their way to the rivers to set up encampments. As we go — David, can you talk about the situation of the unhoused?

DAVID GOODMAN: The situation there, there was, for the last three years, some 2,000 unhoused people sheltered in motels around the state. And about 800 people — the program ended, the funding ended, and about a month ago about 800 people were forced to leave this emergency housing. Many of them went — were provided with tents, which was all that was available, and they then — you know, it was unclear where many of them went. So there has been a frantic effort over the last few days to locate some of these unhoused people, to find these encampments. In some cases, the camping areas were found, but the people had moved on. There have not been any deaths reported in Vermont, so the belief is that people have relocated themselves. But these unhoused people remain extremely vulnerable, and there’s tremendous concern about their fate.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, David Goodman, host of the public affairs podcast and radio show The Vermont Conversation, joining us from Waterbury, Vermont. We’ll link to you your new piece in VTDigger headlined “A flood-battered but wiser Waterbury rises from the ruins, again.” David is the author of, among other books, When the River Rose: Stories of a Vermont Town’s Flood, Recovery, and Rebirth, as well as The Community Schools Revolution, just out last month.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Sonyi Lopez. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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