David Zsido ’70
Memories of Irene.
David Zsido ’70 is a 40-year employee of the electric utility industry in Vermont. In the days following Tropical Storm Irene, he was at ground zero in some of the worst-flooded areas of the state. His story follows.
In the days preceding the arrival of Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont, there was the usual meteorological uncertainty about what was in store for this tiny Green Mountain State. Much of the local attention focused on potential wind damage. However, as Risk Manager (Property/Casualty) for Central Vermont Public Service Corporation (CVPS)—now Green Mountain Power—I usually relied on Tampa Bay Online’s storm-tracking models. Several of its projections placed Irene’s path directly up the spine of the Green Mountains. In addition, there were unsettling indications of significant rainfall—perhaps nine inches or more.
On August 25, 2011, I issued a lengthy memorandum to the CVPS Operating Supervisors. A couple of my recommendations drew chuckles from the workforce, as the prevailing belief was that Irene would be primarily a wind event. So when I called for line crews to have hip boots and life preservers available and to be prepared to evacuate operating centers in close proximity to rivers and streams, there was some laughter among the “troops.”
As the rains poured down on the afternoon of Sunday, August 28, I traveled the Greater Rutland Area monitoring river flooding, particularly where it was beginning to encroach on CVPS assets. Often the routes I selected were blocked with high water, as were my planned paths of retreat. At the CVPS Rutland District Service Center, water was beginning to lap against the building’s overhead doors. We were minutes away from evacuating when the tree and debris that had been wedged under a nearby bridge swept free, and the water level suddenly dropped about two feet. That particular impoundment swelled to a depth of more than three feet on top of U.S. Route 7 north of Rutland; once the water receded it left a foot of slick and slimy mud, which blocked traffic and took days to remove.
As residents awoke on Monday, the scope of the devastation was just beginning to be realized. Rutland’s main access routes north and south were severed. Routes through Rutland that one would normally travel on to Northfield, such as Route 4 (east of Rutland) and Routes 100 and 107 (from Killington to Bethel), had all but disappeared, and large portions of the roadbeds were simply nonexistent. Vermonters by the thousands would toil for months just to bring back some degree of normalcy. National Guard engineer assets from as nearby as Maine and as far as Tennessee transformed the CVPS Systems Building yard in Rutland into something that resembled an army depot, packing the area with heavy earth-moving equipment.
I was asked by the CVPS vice president of operations to assist with the oversight of a “corduroy” road of sorts that was being hastily constructed to open U.S. Route 4 east of Rutland to allow emergency vehicle access to Killington and beyond. It was an unusual request; however, he believed that my duties as Risk Manager, together with my previous experience with the Army Reserve Engineers, qualified me for the task. After a few recommendations were implemented, I was then asked to demonstrate the integrity of the corduroy road by riding in the very first vehicle to travel on it. This happened to be one of the company’s tractor-trailer units. The driver of the rig asked me if I wanted to take the controls. As tempted as I was, I had a greater desire to be in a position to photograph the damage, so I rode shotgun as we opened the corridor to Killington for emergency vehicle use.
Ultimately, in recognition of the actions taken by CVPS and its employees, the Edison Electric Institute awarded its 2011 Emergency Recovery Award to CVPS.