Rain, hail wreak havoc in Rutland County
By Brent Curtis
and Bryanna Allen
staff writerS | May 28,2014
Albert J. Marro / STaff Photo
A thunder, lightening and dhail storm blew through Rutland County Tuesday afternoon forcing people to seek shelter from the storm where ever they could find an overhang. The hail at times was the size of nickels. 05//27/14
The powerful storm that pelted Rutland County and parts of southern Vermont on Tuesday afternoon dumped torrential rains that flooded streets and basements and hurled marble-sized chunks of hail that shattered windows and dented cars around the region.
No injuries or deaths were reported, but damage in Rutland City was still being assessed Tuesday evening — hours after the storm swept through. Mayor Christopher Louras said Department of Public Works crews were collecting information about damage to drains, catch basins, roads and sidewalks Tuesday afternoon.
Starting today, he said the city would begin collecting information about damage to private property and would later add the damage in the city to estimates from other towns in the county to see if the region might qualify for federal disaster aid.
“We’re going to work with Vermont Emergency Management to see if we might qualify for (Federal Emergency Management Agency) or Federal Highway Administration help,” Louras said.
The storm caused problems on city streets, which quickly filled up with water when the drains became blocked with debris, according to Rutland Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg.
“It’s pretty ugly. Streets are flooding and there’s high water in every nook and cranny of the city,” he said.
The DPW commissioner said the storm hit at an especially difficult time as many commuters were traveling home from work, making it difficult for his crews to locate and clear blocked drains.
And Wennberg predicted that a large number of private basements would be filled with water that the city’s storm water system was never designed to handle large storms as frequently as it has in recent years.
“In a six-year period we’ve had six storms that we’re deemed 10-year storms or worse,” he said. “Irene was a 500-year storm. Our system just wasn’t built with this level of intense storms.”
Eric Evenson, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Burlington, said Vermonters reported hail from the storm anywhere from the size of pennies to the size of golf balls, roughly 1.75 inches in diameter.
The weather service issued a tornado warming at 4:36 p.m. Tuesday. It read, “If you live in Rutland ... take cover now. Intense storm will hit within 10 minutes!””
Evenson said the storm had all the right ingredients for massive hail and recorded winds reaching at least 60 miles per hour.
“It’s summertime,” Evenson said. “This is the time of year for these storms, although this one lasted a while with great intensity.”
Ryan Fuller of Center Street was walking to his car right before the storm hit, but quickly changed his mind when he felt the first piece of hail and saw a tree branch snap several feet from his vehicle.
“I decided that going to the store could wait,” Fuller said as he checked himself for bruises. Fuller ended up watching the storm from the floor-to-ceiling windows in his apartment. “It was pretty wild.”
Rebecca Buonadonna owns Fruition, the clothing boutique on the corner of Merchants Row and West Street, and she didn’t hesitate to jump right in when her store was threatened by rising water.
“I grabbed my trusty broom and started clearing the debris from the clogged drains,” she said, with dripping wet hair and bare feet. “The water was coming up over my steps.”
She saw the streetlight across the street get smashed, and watched as the rest of it floated down West Street. That’s when she knew she had to move her window displays, afraid the windows would soon meet the same fate as the light.
“This is my livelihood,” Buonadonna said. “I was willing to stand in freezing rainwater to keep it from coming inside.” However, when the hail proved painful, she ducked back inside. “I could only stand out there for so long,” she said.
Down the street and around the corner, Erika Staley drank a beer with a friend at Griffin’s Publick House as they watched her vehicle get dimpled with hail.
“We couldn’t do anything about it, so we just watched and enjoyed our drinks,” Staley said. Although she recently moved here from Virginia, she was undeterred by the spring weather, running her hands over the new bumps that graced the hood of her Toyota RAV4.
“I really like it here, even in this weather.”
Rutland wasn’t the only municipality with problems.
In Rutland Town, a culvert failure on Cold River Road washed out a swath of pavement near Hubbard’s Farm, according to Sheriff Stephen Benard.
The sheriff said his deputies also responded to a crash on Route 4 in Rutland Town where the roadway was cobbled white with fallen hail stones.
Brandon got a dose of heavy rain but dodged any apparent damage.
“I haven’t gotten any calls on any trees down or anything like that,” said Brandon Police Lt. Rodney Pulsifer.
No reported damage or flooding in Pittsford either.
Fire Chief Tom Hooker said the town got hit with some nickel and quarter size hail “for a short period of time” but nothing more.
But in Rutland’s downtown, motorists sought safe parking areas for their vehicles as dime-sized hail stones rained down — smashing some windows in buildings on Merchants Row. Drivers wedged themselves two-wide under the carport at Vermont Community College and watched the hail and rain.
Price Chopper Supermarket in the Rutland Shopping Plaza was also knocked out of commission by the storm. At 5:30 p.m., store employees were turning people away at the doors and mopping up water from the store’s floor.
By 9 p.m., the store had reopened with limited services.
Students in the Rutland Town Tapestry program were ushered into the gymnasium when the tornado warning was issued for the Rutland area.
Several city streets were deemed nearly impassable in the hours after the storm including short Clover Street which sits in a depression that routinely floods south of the downtown.
In the minutes after the deluge, city DPW crews and firefighters were occupied elsewhere, but lifelong Clover Street resident Jeff Lear said he knew what to do.
Wearing duck boots and standing in water over his ankles, the 33-year-old was one of three residents watching over stormwater drains to make sure they didn’t clog.
“My basements fine,” he said gesturing to his house at 10 Clover St. “We got to the drains before the water got too high.”
One silver lining to the storm was the lack of power outages — at least in Rutland.
Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Kristin Carlson said only two customers in the city reported losing power and only 524 customers — all within the towns of Bridport, Shoreham, Cornwall and Whiting — lost electricity.
Reporters Bruce Edwards and Darren Marcy contributed to this story.