Backstory: July Flood Hit 'Closest to Home' for Barre-Raised Reporter Courtney Lamdin | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Backstory: July Flood Hit 'Closest to Home' for Barre-Raised Reporter Courtney Lamdin 

Published December 27, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

click to enlarge Bob Nelson (left) helping a customer - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Bob Nelson (left) helping a customer

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2023.


In July 2007, I was on summer break from college when a torrential rain hit my hometown of Barre. The north end of the city, where my grandparents had owned a convenience store for decades, was underwater.

I linked up with Erik Wells, my journalism school classmate and childhood friend, to document the flood from Beckley Street, just down the hill from my mom's house. We trained the lens of our video camera on the deluge, in awe of the water's destruction.

Sixteen years later almost to the day, this summer's devastating flood brought me back to that very same spot, where my personal and professional lives collided in ways I'd never experienced.

It started at the service center off Interstate 89 in Berlin. There I was, in my hastily-purchased rubber boots and water-wicking pants — and there, too, was my sister's high school boyfriend, getting something en route to the airport. I said a quick hello, then made my way downtown. I was writing about how a flooded store, Nelson Ace Hardware, kept its doors open to help the flooded town.

I was a natural fit for the story. Besides being from Barre, I already knew Bob Nelson, the owner. When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes sit in with Nelson's classic rock band, Native Tongue, at Barre's summertime heritage festival. It was hard to reconcile my memories of Nelson crooning on stage with the man who was now in front of me, sleep-deprived and stressed out, helping customers find hoses and pipe fittings in a store with no power.

Later that day, I was dispatched to Beckley Street, where state and federal officials were scheduled to tour the damage and speak to residents. It's also where my grandmother owns an apartment house, and my family had questions about flood relief. My mom said she'd join me at the press conference. This will be a first, I thought.

My mom got there before I did. "Reporters everywhere," she texted me. "It looks like everyone is parking near Second Street."

Low-lying Second Street, a Beckley cross street, was covered in thick, foul-smelling mud. Renters — including a former classmate's mom, I later learned — were pumping out their basements.

Perhaps sensing my discomfort, my mom hung back as I joined fellow reporters on the sidewalk. She didn't end up sticking around: She needed supplies for her own flooded basement and went to get them at Nelson's.

As I waited for the government motorcade, I looked up to see my best friend's dad and waved hello. He lives on Beckley, too, albeit above the flood's waterline. I don't remember our exact conversation. He probably said something like, "Isn't this crazy?" And I probably agreed. Because it was.

Five months later, Barre flooded again, but not as badly. Though Nelson's store basement took on water, his inventory was spared: His employees, anticipating a deluge, moved everything to higher ground. My mom's basement stayed dry, thanks to a hardworking sump pump. And my grandmother's apartment house? She sold it — one less thing to worry about the next time Barre floods. Because it will. And I'll be around to cover it.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Story that Hit Closest to Home"

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About The Author

Courtney Lamdin

Courtney Lamdin

Bio:
Courtney Lamdin is a news reporter at Seven Days; she covers Burlington. She was previously executive editor of the Milton Independent, Colchester Sun and Essex Reporter.

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