(NEW YORK) — U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Vermont, where torrential rainfall has triggered life-threatening flash floods.
The president’s action frees up federal resources to supplement the state and local response efforts as well as authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts across Vermont.
Many rivers in the Green Mountain State were “expected to crest overnight at flood levels,” according to a joint press release from the Vermont Department of Public Safety and the Vermont Emergency Management. As of Tuesday morning, swift water rescue teams had already performed more than 100 rescues, primarily in the towns of Londonderry, Weston, Bridgewater, Andover, Ludlow and Middlesex, according to the Vermont Emergency Management.
“Vermonters should be vigilant and aware of conditions as floodwaters rise,” both agencies warned in the press release on Monday night. “If flooding approaches your home evacuate to higher ground sooner rather than later, your route could be compromised by floodwaters and leave you stranded.”
Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, issued an emergency health order closing downtown until 12 p.m. ET on Tuesday as the Winooski River, which runs through the city, recedes. Water levels were expected to drop between 8 a.m. and noon ET, according to Montpelier city manager William Fraser.
“This will allow officials to assess safety risks and begin clean up efforts,” Fraser said in a statement via social media on Monday night. “We know that business owners will be anxious to check out their stores but we urge patience.”
However, the city was forced to extend the downtown travel ban until 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday because water levels were reducing slower than initially projected. This came as the Winooski River crested in Montpelier at 21.02 feet, the highest level since 1927.
In another statement early Tuesday, the Montpelier city manager warned that the Wrightsville Dam, located at the intersection of the municipal borders of the towns of Montpelier, Middlesex and East Montpelier, “only has 6 feet of storage capacity left,” which he said “could be a dangerous situation.”
“If water exceeds capacity, the first spillway will release water into the North Branch River,” Fraser added. “This has never happened since the dam was built so there is no precedent for potential damage. There would be a large amount of water coming into Montpelier which would drastically add to the existing flood damage. This will be particularly bad along the North Branch River corridor and into the downtown. Unfortunately, there are very few evacuation options remaining. People in at risk areas may wish to go to upper floors in their houses.”
Montpelier Police Chief Eric Nordenson urged members of the public to stay out of the downtown area and off city roads on Tuesday morning, saying in a statement that first responders, rescue crews and dispatchers “are spread very thin and will need time to assess the damages.”
The emergency in Vermont came as heavy rainfall drenches the northeastern United States, with flooding expected in the New England area from upstate New York to western Maine. The extreme weather began on Sunday, affecting much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, prompting flash flood alerts in parts of New York. The system pushed north on Monday, with the heaviest rainfall and reports of significant flash flooding occurring in Vermont.
ABC News’ Victoria Arancio, Peter Charalambous, Alexandra Faul, Matt Foster, Max Golembo and Dan Peck contributed to this report.
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