Shumlin urges Vermonters to stay strong on final lap of Irene recovery
By Brent Curtis
staff writer | August 29,2013
Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo
Gov. Peter Shumlin toured the Taftsville Bridge construction site Wednesday afternoon during his Tropical Storm Irene Two-Year Anniversary tour. The bridge is set to open to vehicles September 7th. Alpine Construction LLC of Schuylerville, N.Y.is doing the work on the covered bridge. 08//28/13
KILLINGTON — It was during a brother’s search for a lost sibling swept away by a torrent created by Tropical Storm Irene that Gov. Peter Shumlin said he found words to describe his belief that Vermonters would persevere despite the historic disaster.
Standing at the gateway to Rutland County on Route 4 Wednesday afternoon, Shumlin recalled his first trip to the county less than two days after the storm ended. At that time roads were ruined, homes were flooded and a number of towns, Killington included, were cut off from the rest of the world.
But the governor’s first order of business on Aug. 30, 2011 was to seek out Tom “Tommy” Garofano who was part of a search team that had already recovered the remains of his father, Rutland Public Works employee Michael J. Garofano, and were searching for his younger brother, Michael G. Garofano.
The two men were working to safeguard the city’s water system from the storm when the banks of the usually tranquil Mendon Brook washed away.
When he found Tom Garofano two days into what would prove to be a three-week-long search, Shumlin said he was overcome by the man’s loss.
“I said ‘How do you get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other?’” he said.
The answer was one that the governor said he will never forget.
“He said ‘I never knew I had so many friends in Vermont or so many people that cared for me,’” he said. “And that’s the story of Vermont.”
It was a story retold in many ways on Wednesday by Vermonters whose losses, while not approaching those of Garofano, appeared insurmountable in the days, weeks and months after the storm.
Even two years removed from the state’s worst natural disaster in more than 80 years, many of the Vermonters who Shumlin spoke with during an anniversary tour of hard-hit towns in southern Vermont say they are still waiting for relief funds or struggling to recover. The governor made four stops in Wilmington, Taftsville, Killington and Rochester, where he talked to affected residents and businesses and surveyed repaired roads and bridges.
“I still hear stories of frustration from those waiting for buyouts or who are in housing but not the kind they had before the flood,” Shumlin said, standing in front of First Stop Ski Shop in Killington.
But while some Vermonters are still forced to wait for federal and state relief, others like John and Patty Reagan are trying to put the hardships of Irene behind them.
The owners of Dot’s Restaurant in Wilmington are still working to restore the eatery which was moved from its foundation when the shallow Deerfield River flooded its banks and engulfed most of the downtown.
“There were holes in the foundation you could stick your head in,” John Reagan said Wednesday morning.
The couple had flood insurance, but the restaurant wouldn’t be preparing to reopen in October if not for additional help from government agencies, the Preservation Trust of Vermont and private donations.
“I had one guy send me a check for $20 the day after the flood,” John Reagan said. “He said it was all he could afford but he wanted to help.”
During a packed meeting inside the Wilmington Memorial Hall where more than 100 townspeople were on hand Wednesday, Adam Grinold recalled despairing when he saw the damage done to his business, Wahoo’s Eatery.
“A friend that was with me started picking up sticks in a field of debris. I didn’t see the point to it,” he said.
But then that friend was joined by two more and then five more. An hour later, 25 people were working on the property off White’s Road and a day later a dump truck and earth-moving equipment were at the site.
“I think we need to remind ourselves of what we can do when we work together,” said Grinold, who is also executive director of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Together, we can get things going and keep our sense of urgency and make Wilmington what it should be.”
The downtown looked lively on Wednesday under a clear blue sky, but Grinold and other townspeople noted that there are still 10 storefronts left empty by owners who couldn’t afford to reopen.
Shumlin touched on those vacancies during a speech that called on Vermonters to draw strength from successes such as the repairs to roughly 500 miles of road, 38 bridges and 1,000 culverts since the floodwaters receded.
In Killington, where the town was cut off from the rest of the world for 19 days after the storm, Town Manager Seth Webb said work will begin next month to repair the Ravine Road Bridge — the only remaining Irene-related damage to the town’s infrastructure.
“I think we’ll be able to close the book on Irene by the end of the year,” he said. “Instead of recovering from the storm, we’re planning for the future.”