“We demonstrated the true meaning of ‘Vermont Strong’ as we rebuilt roads, homes and communities, efforts that continue today.”
-Gov. Phil Scott, quoted in a press release issued Monday, August 28, the sixth anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene.
Vermont has come a long way in the six years since flooding from Irene devastated much of the state. The destruction was severe, and many areas of the state including quite a few local towns were hit hard. The recovery, though not easy, was fairly rapid when compared with other regions and how they have recovered from extensive flooding. But there is no doubt still much to do, and Scott also mentioned in his message that Vermont must continue to plan as if the next big flood is just around the corner.
That point is being driven home as events unfolded in Texas during the week. That initial shock when Irene hit Vermont is something that no doubt brought back troubling memories to many upon seeing the massive flooding taking place in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Also adding to that sense of déjà vu are the repeated scenes of widespread damage, of first responders helping rescue stranded people, and the urgency of the situation.
Some have said that Texas, and particularly Houston, could have done more to prepare for the storm and evacuate people ahead of it. That may be true, and no doubt when officials sit down and debrief there will be much discussion about that very topic. But, the reality is no one could really have prepared for the massive flooding that has taken place, even though forecasters were predicting it in the days before Harvey made landfall.
Harvey may be the father of all floods, but a look back at recent history shows a flood occurring every decade or so in that region. That alone should make leaders in every coastal community question whether or not their town is truly prepared, and question the long-term viability of a community to continue to recover from storms like Katrina and Harvey.
Some will say the increased severity of hurricanes and tropical storms is related to global warming. Others will dispute that. Whether or not Harvey and its related flooding are related to climate change really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Houston and much of the Gulf Coast will be subjected to ongoing hurricanes and flooding simply by nature of where they are located. Storms happen, and much of the United States, the Caribbean, and the countries that ring the Gulf of Mexico are often in their path. Every year it seems that some place in those parts of the world is slammed by a major storm.
People are quick to put bad memories behind them, particularly when it doesn’t affect them. That is even more true in today’s age of rapid change and instant communication. That’s one of the many reasons why it is important to have a sense of history and to be prepared for more than the worst.
Planning must never stop for major disasters like hurricanes. As Scott said in his statement, “That’s why this is also a time to reflect on our continued work to make Vermont more resilient to flooding, including infrastructure improvements, addressing climate change, and clean water and flood mitigation initiatives.”
We couldn’t agree more.