WILMINGTON, Vt. (AP) – On the second anniversary of the biggest natural disaster to hit Vermont in generations, Gov. Peter Shumlin marked how far the state has come by visiting a restaurant that still hasn’t reopened.
Shumlin’s stop at a Wilmington restaurant for chili was a clear reminder of the work yet undone two years after Tropical Storm Irene moved through the state, killing six Vermonters and causing hundreds of millions in damage.
After rattling off statistics about roads repaired and culverts installed, Shumlin reminded a crowd in Wilmington that, for many, wounds remain and help is needed.
“We’re a place, when tragedy strikes, when the worst happens, we turn to those who are friends, and those who are strangers and we say `how can I help,'” Shumlin said in Wilmington, where he visited Dot’s restaurant.
Shumlin had to have his chili in a tent across the street because work is still being done on the 19th century building all but destroyed when the Deerfield River topped its banks.
While Vermont is nearing the end of its official recovery, hundreds of people and businesses are still trying to return to normal and some are still looking for permanent housing.
Two summers ago, Irene dumped up to 11 inches of rain on parts of Vermont, turning rivers into torrents and sweeping away homes, roads, bridges and farm fields. Of the state’s 251 towns, 225 had infrastructure damage.
The state and federal governments have spent more than $565 million to help with Vermont’s recovery. That doesn’t include private donations and money that people have spent on their own.
Shumlin lauded the spirit of community that Vermonters displayed since Irene, helping one another in ways large and small. He recounted talking to a South Carolina National Guardsman who was preparing to head home after helping the relief effort.
The guardsman told Shumlin that Vermonters didn’t wait for the government to come and help; they grabbed chain saws, shovels and equipment and started digging.
“That’s the spirit of this great state,” Shumlin said.
Shumlin was also scheduled to visit Killington and Rochester, two central Vermont communities up the spine of the Green Mountains that were isolated for days after Irene’s floodwaters cut all roads as well as the power and telephone communications.
On Thursday, Shumlin is expected to announce federal funding for repairs to the Waterbury state office complex, much of which was abandoned after floodwaters from Winooski River inundated it. The state is waiting for funding for its $124 million plan for the complex.
Back in Wilmington, where many businesses along the Deerfield River remain closed two years after the story, Dots is still four to six weeks away from reopening.
The building is sitting on a new foundation and the outside has been rebuilt, but there isn’t a sign yet, and co-owner Patty Reagan said the kitchen equipment should arrive soon.
“It’s all coming together now,” Patty Reagan said.
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