Authorities in the rain-battered city of Montpelier, Vermont, are on high alert as the threat of a reservoir water spillage reaches critical levels.
On Tuesday morning, as officials from the Montpelier Police Department delivered their latest update, levels remaining in Wrightsville Dam were plummeting – from six feet on Monday morning to just one foot by midday Tuesday.
The worrying news comes as torrential downpours have lashed large parts of the Northeastern United States this week, leading the National Weather Service to label Vermont as the 'highest risk' state.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) July 11, 2023
Emergency services in the capital alone had rescued more than 110 people so far and many more remain trapped due to the floods, which had cut off 78 roads and damaged police, ambulance, and fire service headquarters.
Footage from the area also shows the colossal scale of destruction, with the overflowing reservoir dangerously approaching the brim of the dam.
Rescuers, visible in lifejackets and helmets, can be seen traversing in motorized rafts, while a figure in a canoe can be seen alongside second-story windows, with car bonnets just visible beneath the surface.
Justified panic quickly descended on the city, as the Montpelier Police Department warned that any further increase in water levels at the dam could spell disaster.
'Every additional foot of water that goes over the spillway doubles the amount of water entering the City from the dam,’ they wrote in a statement.
William Fraser, the City Manager for Montpelier, also revealed that a spillway would release ‘a large amount of water' into the North Branch of the Winooski River and ‘drastically add to the existing flood damage’.
'This has never happened since the dam was built so there is no precedent for potential damage,’ he added.
Serious, life-threatening flooding is occurring today across much of Vermont. Emergency crews have conducted rescues in multiple communities. About two dozen state roads are closed as of 10AM. Flash flood warnings are in effect from the Massachusetts line to the Canadian border. pic.twitter.com/09ryZ1N7bR
— Vermont State Police (@VTStatePolice) July 10, 2023
The high risk also stems from the troubling fact that the flash floods had so far taken out three radio towers used to dispatch fire engines and ambulances, along with key buildings used by first responders.
City officials’ concerns were echoed by President Biden, who declared a state of emergency in Vermont and ordered federal aid to bolster local rescue efforts.
Speaking at a news conference, Vermont Governor Phil Scott described the situation as an ‘all-hands-on-deck' event’ as private forecaster AccuWeather projected damages and economic loss across the North East and New England could cost between $3 and $5 billion.
'We are seeing a reduction of water in the downtown, Langdon Street and VSECU areas so we have some capacity if we reach some overflow,' the Police Department wrote. 'We are continuing to monitor this situation.'
State Street. Downtown Montpelier. One block from capitol. Abandoned vehicle, dumpster floating by. Alarms going off and occasional explosions. Maybe electrical transformers. pic.twitter.com/V2drwiWYv3
— Miguel Marquez (@miguelmarquez) July 11, 2023