Irene has come and gone, but in her wake, Vermont has been declared a federal disaster area and residents of the town of Northfield are digging out from the worst flood the town has seen in 100 years. St. Jacob of Alaska’s historic building, spared any damage, sits on high ground above the reach of the river, but most structures in the town weren’t so fortunate. The flash flood swept through the heart of Northfield, inundating the homes and businesses in its path.
“These were unusual rains,” says Fr. Caleb Abetti, pastor of St. Jacob of Alaska. “They swelled mountain streams, then overwhelmed the town’s rivers. Hundreds of roads and bridges were destroyed. Thousands of homes were submerged in water; cars and propane tanks ﬂoated down rivers and wrapped around trees. The river moved fast and furious, smashing cars into porches while many endured the horror from the upstairs of their homes.”
“For a while we did not know if the ﬂood would completely take our town,” continues Fr. Caleb. “Unfortunately, the flash flood moved so quickly that many people had only five minutes warning before their homes and businesses succumbed.”
As soon as the waters subsided, parishioners from St. Jacob rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Fr. Caleb decided to charge dumpsters to the parish’s credit card even before he knew where the money was going to come from, in order to be able to address Northfield’s immediate needs.
“We prepared and bought food, we bought supplies, we ﬁxed machines, we untangled ﬁshing tackle. We put our arms around people and we sang to God in the hardest hit areas,” Fr. Caleb says.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has set up temporary offices in the local library and will be able to provide help eventually, the parish has doesn’t need to wait for paperwork to clear. Two weeks after the flood, they continue to help people rebuild their lives through timely financial assistance and ongoing clean up and repairs.
“We need to stick with this for the long haul,” explains Fr. Caleb, “when the needs of winter will be far costlier. FEMA is set up, but we donʼt know how some of the people will fare when the dust clears. Many will not be able to move back in, no matter how the abatement process goes. Some have had their houses condemned because of ruin to their foundations.”
“We donʼt know what is going to happen to a lot of our people,” concludes Fr. Caleb. “What we do know is that the Orthodox Church is going to be there to give comfort, shelter, and food.”
Fr. Caleb’s Northfield Flood Journal can be read here.
A video taken by Fr. Caleb of Hurricane Irene flooding Northfield can be watched here.
A photo gallery of the damage and aftermath of the flooding can be accessed here.