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One house is destroyed in Barre landslides as flooding loosens up the ground

 A man and woman stand together in front of a brown house with green shutters. The house is sloped downward.
Lia Chien
/
Vermont Public
Doug and Rhoda Mason lost their house on Portland St. in Barre to a landslide on July 11, 2023.

Like many towns and cities across Vermont, Barre has begun the clean up after last week’s historic flooding. But as people begin to assess damage to businesses and homes, some residents are now contending with the threat of landslides.

Five homes have been evacuated due to unstable ground above the houses, said Barre City Manager Nicolas Storellicastro.

One home was destroyed in a landslide around 4 a.m. on July 11.

Doug and Rhoda Mason have called Barre their home for almost their entire married life. A brown house with green shutters on Portland St., they intended for it to only be their starter home. Yet they ended up raising children, hosting family Christmas parties, and growing old there for 41 years.

But as floodwaters rose in Barre last week, the bank behind the Masons' house became loose, knocking the house entirely off the foundation.

Doug and Rhoda were asleep in their living room when they woke to the crash of a tree falling outside. As they started to hear more noises, Rhoda told Doug to call for help.

“As he's connecting with 911, the house just imploded on top of us. Just cracking, whishing, knocked me right off the couch and twirled me around,” Rhoda said. “And I really said to myself, 'I think this is where we're going to die.'”

The Masons called 911 and firemen evacuated them from the house. They are currently staying with family and applying for FEMA assistance as they find a new home.

That same night, a landslide trapped three cars and stopped traffic on VT-62, commonly known as the beltway in Barre. Rhoda recounted that the firemen who brought her and Doug to the emergency room after they were evacuated then went back to help with that other landslide.

“The cars were upside down and everything,” Rhoda said. “So [the firemen] were busy. And they both said that they'd seen stuff that night that they had never seen before.”

A hill with green trees and mud and dirt stands next to a road. There is a truck to the left of the landslide.
Lia Chien
/
Vermont Public
A landslide trapped three cars and closed VT-62 in Barre on July 11, 2023.

In the past week, Barre has seen upwards of 40 landslides, according to State Geologist Ben DeJong. As of Thursday, Storellicastro, the city manager, said they were currently monitoring 20 incidents in the Barre area. A landslide in Ripton also destroyed a mobile home on July 14.

Barre’s landscape makes it prone to landslides, especially in its hilly residential neighborhoods like Portland St.

The city sits on a couple hundred feet of sandy, clay-filled soils that are disconnected from the bedrock below, according to DeJong. When you combine this geological makeup with an “extraordinary amount of rain,” it's the perfect recipe for a landslide.

“When you put all of that water onto steep slopes that are not cored by bedrock or any other more competent material, they tend to give way,” DeJong said.

Storellicastro hopes a break in the weather will lessen the threat.

“We have gravity working against us," he said. "We have just completely saturated ground working against us, we have more rain that's just continued to come working against us."

“We have gravity working against us. We have just completely saturated ground working against us, we have more rain that's just continued to come working against us."
Nicolas Storellicastro, Barre city manager

But as long as landslides remain an issue, DeJong encourages people to be on alert and watch for signs that a slope could be unstable.

Common signs of a possible slide are bulges of land at the bottom of a hill and trees bending towards or away from a slope.

But trees are also crucial to preventing landslides, as roots act as binders underneath the ground.

“Those trees are your best friend for knowing if your slope is safe, but they're also your best friend for holding that slope together,” DeJong said.

He also recommends diverting stormwater and runoff away from hills with silt fences or other “homegrown remedies.”
DeJong reminds people that this storm has “fundamentally changed the landscape,” and it could be a while before the land stabilizes. Until then, people must “remain vigilant.”

Storellicastro encourages those who want to help to donate to flood relief organizations or volunteer their time with clean up efforts. If you witness or suspect a landslide, contact your city or town manager and report it here to the Vermont Geological Survey.

 A white building stands atop a hill. There is a landslide to the right of the building.
Vermont Agency of Transportation
/
Courtesy
A landslide near Prospect St. in Barre can be seen from the air.

As Barre balances both flood and landslide damages, the Masons are working to find a new home. They have not been able to access their house and retrieve any precious belongings.

“There's a lot of pictures that are on the walls that we can't get that are not replaceable, because they're pictures of the kids that — when they were born,” Doug Mason said. “There's just a lot of things in there that if and when they come to tear this down, I'm not sure if I'll be able to or allowed to get in there to get some of that stuff that's [in] there.”

And looking at their beloved home from behind yellow tape, the Masons recounted feeling safe the entire time they lived on Portland St.

“We lived here for 41 years. Never was I ever afraid. That bank has been behind us, you know, all our almost married life. All our son's life, and I never was afraid,” Rhoda said. “I never, never would have expected this.”

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