Vermont’s Wrightsville Dam reached full capacity late Tuesday, officials announced, meaning the spillways could be used for the first time since the dam was built in 1935 and send more water to the flood-ravaged capital. Montpelier.
Torrential rains overnight Sunday have caused the worst flooding since Hurricane Irene in 2011, with only the Great Vermont Flood of 1927 worse before that.
Montpelier is among the hardest-hit areas, and on Tuesday night city officials began providing updates every two hours, as residents watched the dam in fear.
By noon Tuesday, the water level in the dam had risen approximately 30 feet in 24 hours.
The Wrightsville Dam, which overlooks the state capital Montpelier, was full at 4 pm Tuesday, with floodwaters approaching spillovers, which run into the city.
Much of Montpelier was under water Tuesday as residents watched the dam’s waters with concern.
William Fraser, the Montpelier city manager, said they had no idea what to expect if the spillways were used.
“This has never happened since the dam was built, so there is no precedent for potential damage,” he said in a Facebook post.
“There would be a large amount of water coming into Montpelier, dramatically adding to the existing flood damage.”
The Winooski River running through Montpelier surpassed the levels it had reached in August 2011 when Irene flooded the state, reaching 21.35 feet at 9 a.m., the second highest on record.
As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Wrightsville Dam was running at full capacity, local officials said.
The Winooski and North Branch rivers “remain high and pose a serious threat to anyone near floodwater,” they warned.
Flooded mail trucks during the Winooski River floods on Tuesday
Montpelier police shared images of flooding in the center on Tuesday
Montpelier residents were told not to drink tap water, as the system was likely overwhelmed and the water was contaminated.
Many roads were impassable, and even the governor, Phil Scott, was isolated: he had to climb hills to get out of his house and around the floodwaters.
Scott called the situation “historic” and warned that it was far from over.
“Even though the sun is shining today and tomorrow, we expect more rain later this week, which will have nowhere to go on the supersaturated ground,” Scott said.
‘So I want to be clear: we are not out of the woods. This is nowhere near over, and in this phase, our main focus continues to be life and safety before we can move into a recovery phase.’
An emergency health order barring people from entering the city center expired at 3 p.m. Tuesday, but authorities urged people to avoid traveling to the embattled state capital.
‘The downtown area remains flooded and is not safe for public travel. Unless you are a business owner making a necessary visit to your store, avoid downtown Montpelier until emergency crews have had time to assess the damage and ensure public safety.
Fraser said those trapped in the city should stay where they are.
“Unfortunately, there are very few evacuation options left,” Fraser said.
‘People in risk areas may want to go to the upper floors of their houses. The city has called for rapid water rescue resources to be brought to the area to assist where possible.
President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration request Tuesday, allowing federal resources to be sent to the area to help.
Phil Scott, the governor of Vermont, warned residents Tuesday that they were “not out of the woods yet.”
Vermont residents were warned Tuesday not to try to come to downtown Montpelier
Vermont State Police said the state’s swift water rescue teams have performed more than 100 rescues across the state and are still busy performing rescues.
Additional rescue teams from Connecticut, Massachusetts and North Carolina were also in Vermont to help, and others are on the way.
National Guard helicopters are also being deployed to assist with evacuations in the hardest-hit communities and the most remote areas that fast-water crews cannot access.
Many who lived and had businesses in the area did not have flood insurance.
Bob Nelson, the owner of Nelson Ace Hardware in downtown Barre, estimated that he had lost about $300,000 in inventory, which will not be covered by his insurance.
But he told The New York Times that the support from the community, he said, has been “incredible.”
“Text messages, phone calls, people stopping, people helping to remove mud from our sidewalk,” he said.
It has been tremendous.