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Waters are receding in Vermont's state capital after historic flooding

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Waters are finally receding in Montpelier, Vt., Vermont's state capitol, after historic levels of flooding overwhelmed the city's downtown yesterday. Officials say waters exceeded the levels seen in 2011 during Tropical Storm Irene. And climate scientists say this could be the new normal. We wanted to hear more about conditions right now, so we've called the mayor of Montpelier, Jack McCullough, and he's with us now. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Thanks for taking the time.

JACK MCCULLOUGH: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So just tell us what you're seeing right now in your city.

MCCULLOUGH: Well, we had some very encouraging news overnight. The water has receded, and we're not - the streets downtown are not filled with water the way they were all day yesterday. And so what we have left is what the flood left behind. So the streets are filled with mud and silt. And so removing that is going to be the first order of business.

MARTIN: I understand that the fire department, the police department and city hall were all flooded. Has that made it harder to respond to this?

MCCULLOUGH: It has, although we have an emergency operations center at our city water plant, which is on higher ground. And so we are maintaining full operations up there. I was there with the assistant city manager and other staff yesterday afternoon, and things are going as well as we could hope and expect at that location.

MARTIN: And, well, speaking of water, is the city still advising residents to boil water?

MCCULLOUGH: We still have the boil water notice on. And another thing we've done is that we've initiated a parking ban on the two main streets - State Street and Main Street - so that the Department of Public Works can begin clearing the streets.

MARTIN: And what about the streets, the highways? Are people - if they need to evacuate, can they do so?

MCCULLOUGH: All the streets in the city and in the surrounding areas are open now. And so people who need to go somewhere can get out of town or into town too.

MARTIN: All right. Well, sounds encouraging. So remember, we were following updates yesterday on the status of the Wrightsville Dam. A nearby reservoir was threatening to overwhelm the dam on Tuesday, and there was some concern that that could exacerbate the flooding downtown. I know you were just telling us that the waters have receded, but can you just - do you know what's the status of the dam right now?

MCCULLOUGH: I haven't seen the latest dam levels. I think that we're very concerned, and the water never overtopped the dam, which was very good. So I think that we're feeling pretty good about the dam right now. Our flood gauge measures in the city are way down, which is very good. The highest level we ever got to was 21.3 feet, and it's down now to around 12 feet. So that's a huge improvement.

MARTIN: OK. So we have about a minute left. So what support are you getting for your kind of recovery efforts, and what else might you need?

MCCULLOUGH: Well, we are very pleased the president issued an emergency or disaster declaration already. I - on yesterday, spoke to our senator, Peter Welch, and he is committed to working with Senator Sanders and with the Republicans in the Senate to get the funding we are going to need. I also talked to our representative, Becca Balint, about getting aid to us. We have people coming out from all over the place offering to volunteer to help with the cleanup. And so it's going to take money, it's going to take a lot of work and it's going to take time. And - but I'm confident we will be back as a thriving city.

MARTIN: Well, that's Jack McCullough. He's the mayor of Montpelier, Vt. Mr. Mayor, I know you have a lot on your plate. I'm sure you need some rest. So thanks so much for talking to us for a few minutes, and I hope we'll talk again.

MCCULLOUGH: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUNGE GROOVE AVENUE'S "IT AIN'T RIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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