By Molly Koch
Special To The Standard
KILLINGTON – After Hurricane Irene devastated Killington with flooding and severe road damages to each way out of town, the town received the nickname “Killington Island.”
Challenges of life on this new “island” varied depending on where people lived. Asa Waterworth, a WUHS junior and Olivia Merrill, a WUHS Alumni (Class of ‘11), commonly shared struggles for road access as they were trying to either return to Killington, or leave the area.
Waterworth needed to get to the airport to head off for a semester abroad in France.
“Pittsfield was hit pretty badly, and I had to leave for France so that was sort of a tough adventure,” Waterworth said. “Bridges on both sides of Pittsfield were completely gone, but they say that after the rain stopped a whole bunch of Pittsfield guys borrowed each other’s excavators, dug it out and made a temporary bridge, so without that I wouldn’t have been able to get by. I don’t think the trail [Journey’s End / Helvi Hill trail to travel between Mendon & Rutland] had been set up at that time actually. We just walked along the really skinny bits of road that were left. We met two photographers/interviewers on the way too; obviously we looked funny with me carrying my huge suitcase and my mom wearing hospital scrubs because they had blocked the road, so she thought they’d help her get through.”
Olivia Merrill’s journey was not so easy, however. On the day of the storm, she found herself stuck at work in Rutland as her only direct way home was completely destroyed by the rushing waters. With the clock ticking, she had only a few days left to get home and leave for college, but the damage to Route 4 in Mendon left her stranded.
Merrill explained further, “I stayed with a co-worker. The next morning I searched for a way home, but Killington was then an unreachable island. My boyfriend lived in Brownsville; what normally should have taken just an hour and a half to drive took me four hours. I had to go all the way up to Burlington and down I-89 to even get there. As I patiently waited for more news on the roads, I started freaking because I had only four days until I needed to get to college. I called my school, and they encouraged me to come to orientation with what I had because they didn’t want me to have to make that up as well. Finally, on Wednesday I found out that there would be certain times I could go to and from Killington, so not wasting any time I left early on Thursday so I could be home to leave for school. I just barely made it to pack my stuff and leave the very next day. I never realized how devastating such a storm could be,” she said, adding, “Even though this was terrible, it is truly amazing to see our community come together to rebuild our towns.”
While Merrill was taking her extensive detour home, Grania VanHerwarde, also a Killington native and an alumni of WUHS Class of ‘11, was already settled in her college dorm when she heard what happened to her hometown.
“I was freaking out here in my dorm about everyone there, and the phones were down so I couldn’t talk to my parents for a bit, which was kind of scary,” VanHerwarde said. “The washout in Mendon was on the front page of the New York Times and I ran around being like, ‘This is my town! Ahh!’”
Brielle Finer, a sophomore, is a Killington resident who was out of town when the flooding happened near her home.
“The house across the road from the white church (Our Lady of the Mountains) near River Road on Route 4 is completely gone because a river formed from all of the flooding. [The house was a federally-owned residence for sale; no one was living in it.] There isn’t even a foundation left from the house, it is entirely gone. Also, the bridge on my driveway that leads to my house was totally under water yet incredibly enough it didn’t collapse, but when the water receded there was a huge chunk of land on the bridge and some kind of rusty tank,” Finer said.
There was without a doubt significant damage done to Killington, but as soon as the water started to recede, the emergency response personnel and local volunteers set up shop at the Killington Firehouse, providing information about food and water resources, shelter, travel reports, and medical supplies. WUHS junior Marc Findeisen was one of those people, pitching in around 40 hours of service for the community over a span of six days. From helping out a local market with restocking shelves due to employees not able to get to work, to helping out with traffic control and setting up cones, Findeisen did it all. “ I also helped unload MREs (military “meals ready to eat”) and water into the town shelter,” he says. “I was part of the Emergency Response Team that went around, evaluated property damage, and helped bring food to those who couldn’t get it. I just enjoyed helping out in the community. I would get a call from the ‘command center’ and they would give me an address to go to so I could offer help, and that’s what I did. I had a lot of fun and had nothing better to do, being stuck on an island.”
Killington Island is now in full-force recovery mode, with a strong and dedicated community to carry the efforts forward and, it is no longer an island.
This article first appeared in the September 29th print edition of the Vermont Standard.