So much swept away

Tropical storm left little to salvage on one street in Vermont city

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By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / August 31, 2011

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RUTLAND, Vt. - Ankle-deep sludge coated the playground yesterday on Meadow Street, right across from where Kandi and Louis Ross live. The scene inside their house was just as grim.

“This carpet’s supposed to be white,’’ Kandi Ross lamented. It was the color of milk chocolate.

This is what Irene did to a stretch of Meadow Street.

Not even 48 hours after the Rosses grabbed their four children and a few changes of clothes and evacuated Sunday with 15 minutes’ notice, they were among Vermonters whose lives remain indefinitely unsettled. In a dozen other Vermont towns, stranded by washed-out roads and bridges, the situation was so desperate that the National Guard yesterday delivered food and water by helicopter.

In Rutland, waist-high flooding from the remnants of the hurricane-turned-tropical storm rendered homes, the Rosses’ among them, unusable.

Sunday’s floods halved the family’s income. Louis Ross works for himself as a painter and drywall installer. When Irene destroyed his work equipment, it left the family with no place to go and little money to repair their home in a quiet, working-class neighborhood.

Affluence in Rutland generally adheres to topography. Most of the wealthiest live on higher ground, while families of more modest means live in the lowest-lying areas at the edge of downtown, a neighborhood known somewhat pejoratively as “the Gut.’’

That means those with the least suffered the most in Rutland when riverbanks overflowed.

At the Rosses’ house, where they had lived for a dozen years, all the appliances and computers were destroyed. The water inside the house, which left clothing and furniture on the first floor worthless, is the same color as the rancid-smelling water sloshing in the backyard.

While awaiting responses to calls to their insurance company and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Ross family has split up. The children are staying with extended family, the parents at a hotel.

The water roared down Meadow Street on Sunday with stunning speed and ferocity.

“It was probably over 4 feet deep at one point,’’ said Benjamin E. Layden, 35, who lives next door to the Rosses. “It was a river. There were little rapids.’’

“It was about belly-button high,’’ said his son, 16-year-old Benjamin J. Layden, who before evacuating watched water spread debris through the neighborhood. “We had street signs, traffic cones, pallets, wood beams,’’ he said. “We had eight garbage cans in our backyard.’’

Before helping his father clean fetid debris from the basement of their house yesterday, he paused for a moment outside on mud-caked grass.

“You see this stuff on TV,’’ he said. “Then you’re sitting in the middle of it thinking, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening.’ We’re trying just to keep our patience. But me and my father, when it comes to patience, we’re a little thin.’’

Vermont was one of the states hardest hit by Irene, and the Rutland region’s losses appear poised to mount.

Just east of the city, floods tore a yawning chasm through Route 4, which heads up the mountain toward the Killington ski resort. A major pipe to the city’s reservoir in Mendon also broke, said Tom Donahue, president of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce.

“We have, right now, a 30-day water supply,’’ he said. “That’s monumental. We’re respectfully requesting, on every soapbox we can get on, that people conserve water, but we need federal and state resources, if necessary, to address this.’’

The state is already scrambling to aid towns isolated by the closing of some 260 highways and roads.

Many highways reopened yesterday, and Donahue said Rutland is now accessible from all directions except the east.

That remains a significant concern because Route 4 is the region’s main east-west artery, and ordinarily would provide key access to tourists in a few weeks when foliage season traditionally fills the region’s hotels.

For people along Meadow Street, the day-to-day transcends the region’s long-term economic worries as they wonder what tomorrow holds.

“I’ve lost all my business equipment,’’ said Louis Ross, 40. “I’ve got jobs to do that I can’t even get to.’’

Kandi Ross, 41, works at Talk of the Town hair styling in Rutland, but the Rosses do not know how much compensation they will get from insurance and emergency aid.

“It just doesn’t seem like it’s going to get better,’’ Kandi said.

Next door, the elder Layden said he hoped insurance would help repair the house he has lived in for 10 years, though he was not sure when he would be able to move back. A few years ago, he said, the area’s flood plain maps were reconfigured after Hurricane Katrina, and he was told he would have to start purchasing flood insurance, which costs about $1,000 a year.

“At first, I wasn’t too excited about the cost,’’ Layden said, “but after Sunday, I was very thankful.’’

On Monday, when emergency officials let residents back into the neighborhood, Kandi Ross took one look at the family’s house and cried.

“I just wanted to run in the other direction,’’ she said. “It was absolutely devastating.’’

Less than 24 hours earlier, disaster was a possibility no one had considered.

“We actually cooked a turkey Sunday,’’ she said. “We were planning to sit down to a nice dinner.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at