Historic flooding damages Vermont churches, prompts DR response

A generational rainstorm that put downtown streets under two feet of water stopped inches short of the steps to Enough Ministries.

“We were just high enough to avoid it,” Pastor Dan Molind told Baptist Press.

Many others weren’t as fortunate. At least 10 Southern Baptist churches have sustained damage, said Molind, who is also the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Send Relief director in New England.

“Around noon yesterday (July 10) we realized it was going to be a significant weather event,” Molind said.

Enough Ministries has focused on Gospel conversations as well as reaching the community through things like a clothes closet, feeding ministry and helping those in addiction. A lighthouse of sorts already, it is now one of two command centers for Southern Baptists in the state.

Volunteers are currently being organized, Molind said.

No injuries or deaths have been reported, though more than 100 people have been rescued by boat or helicopter. A dam is in danger of being filled to capacity, officials said, which would send more water into the capital city of Montpelier. President Joe Biden has declared a state of emergency in Vermont.

Torrential downpours have wiped away many roads, isolating entire towns. Rainfall since July 9 brought more than 9 inches in the community of Stowe and more than a foot in Shrewsbury, according to the National Weather Service.

Pastor Pete “Chap” Taraski lives on the third floor above Resurrection Baptist Church in Montpelier with his wife, daughter and their dog. Even though he kept an eye on potential flooding, the speed of its arrival surprised him.

“It came in quick,” he said. “The water kind of rose up in the streets and people were still driving through it, then all of it sudden it went up a lot.

Taraski went to the church’s basement in order to cut the power. However, he was greeted by water at the top step when he opened the basement door. The only way he was going to check the electricity was with scuba gear, two things that typically don’t go together.

Somehow, the power remained on. At 2:30 am Tuesday (July 11), the fire alarms went off. The family left the building and went to their cars – Taraski’s wife and daughter in a Buick Enclave and he and their Golden Retriever, Ty, in the Subaru.

They stayed parked side by side in the dark, only to move at a prompting by Ty.

“The water would stay at a spot, but then moved up kind of quick,” Tarski said. “He was watching it. That made me see it getting closer to the cars, so we moved back a little from it.”

Several church members felt the impact as well, he added, with downed trees and flood damage. Taraski has since been able to inspect damage on the first floor – which holds the sanctuary, classrooms, the kitchen and his office, among other spaces. The flooding has prompted the cancellation of its upcoming vacation Bible school.

A national Southern Baptist response is underway.

“New England and New York teams are in the early stages of response planning as they are waiting for waters to recede to begin assessment but are planning response and have teams on ‘standby,’” said Coy Webb, NAMB Send Relief Crisis Response director. “Missouri and North Carolina SBDR have also been in contact to offer support in response.

“I do believe that it will be a multi-state response and will be several days for teams to be able to get into flooded areas.”

An additional command post in Bennington for the southern part of the state has also been established, said Molind, who added that DR teams from Ohio and Pennsylvania/South Jersey have also contacted him.

There was a slight chance of thunderstorms on Tuesday and Wednesday, but showers were expected to return today and Friday.

— Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.