Working together in an emergency

21 Dec

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Matthew Hake had been the division administrator for the Vermont office of the Federal Highway Administration just two and a half weeks when the unthinkable happened: A massive flood knocked out bridges, destroyed roads, and isolated entire towns from the outside world.

The August 2011 flood was caused when Hurricane Irene moved inland and stalled over the state of Vermont, dumping as much as 11 inches of rain on parts of the state.

“It was a mess,” Matthew said, more than a year later. “I was working 15- to 18-hour days. I was not experienced with disasters and emergencies. I had to come all the way to Vermont to experience a hurricane.”

Matthew (’84 civil engineering) had previously been stationed with the Federal Highway Administration in South Carolina, Washington, D.C., Utah, California, Wyoming, Arizona, Delaware, and Wisconsin. He had never experienced anything like the flooding in Vermont.

“Vermont’s topography is carved out by rivers, and the towns are in the valleys,” he explained. “So all the water inundated the towns. It devastated much of Vermont. Five towns were entirely cut off. It was amazing the amount of damage this water created.”

Matthew’s federal team worked closely with Vermont’s Department of Transportation and with other federal relief programs such as FEMA. He said the response to the disaster was amazing.

“Vermonters just came together to make sure everyone was OK,” he said. “The state could not have done this without outside help. The National Guard, volunteers from other states, contractors – everyone dropped what they were doing to help out.”

Matthew says the state was close to being back to normal when we visited him at his home near Burlington in October 2012. Some bridges and roadways in the southern part of the state were still being rebuilt.

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