By Eric Francis
READING – Several village residents had to be rescued from the upper floors of their suddenly imperiled houses after the North Branch of the Black River, usually a barely noticeable stream most seasons of the year, sprang to life and came roaring down the Tyson Road on Sunday morning.
By 10:30 a.m. Reading’s volunteer firefighters were watching Route 106 leading south begin to disappear along with a key bridge, which remained completely out of service as of Thursday, and crews were busy putting barricades up on Niagara Street.
By the time it was all over the river had changed its course and left a half dozen houses along its banks unlivable.
“We live in these narrow little valleys and if there aren’t fields around to take the extra water then it just goes straight up,” noted Representative Alison Clarkson.
“The Tyson Road has taken a big hit,” said Reading resident Sarwar Kashmeri. “Portions of it have just collapsed into the river.”
Further north on Route 106 towards South Woodstock, Reading Hill Brook didn’t help matters by leaving its banks and completely covering sections of the highway.
As the afternoon progressed on Sunday and the situation looked increasingly dire for one residence in particular that was completely surrounded by moving water, the Hartford Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue Team was called out from White River Junction to provide assistance to Reading’s volunteers.
The Hartford rescue team made it to just past the Green Mountain Horse Association in South Woodstock before multiple washouts forced them to abandon the mission (although a short time later the same team was put to use saving five residents from the Riverside trailer park in Woodstock).
On Reading Farms Road near downtown Felchville water six inches deep was flowing “like a river” down the roadbed into a basement and, further north, the antique Bailey’s Mills building, which is now a bed & breakfast, also sustained heavy damage.
Throughout even the worst of the storm, completely cutoff from surrounding communities, Reading residents kept right on fighting with what they had on hand.
“When the river changed course there was this guy with a bulldozer and he moved rocks late into the night at risk to himself and got the river to partially flow back again so they could make a temporary repair to Route 106,” Kashmeri recalled, “I have to tell you, the enormous skill and dedication of the very small village road crew that we have is impressive.”
Kashmeri said that he lives far enough above the floodplain that he escaped unscathed. “We were very lucky,” he said, “There was no destruction here at all but on either side of us are brooks and those culverts collapsed and that road disappeared.”
“We were basically landlocked but a day-and-a-half later these sand trucks pulled up and the town said, `We can’t fix it like it was before but at least lets get it to a one-lane road so people can use it’ and they got to work and the people at the farm across the road helped out and I just can’t say enough about the work that is being done by local people.”
“Nobody waited for help from upstairs. They just said `We gotta get it done’ and they did it,” Kashmeri said, adding, “People are hugely skeptical of FEMA ever getting here in time or even at all.”
“I’ve seen people who volunteered to take their SUVs and go get supplies so the general store can get restocked, things like that which give one so much comfort. It will be a long haul back for Vermont but I’m just certain we’ll get there.”
By Eric Francis