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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Laid to Rest, Again

Woodlawn Cemetery, Rochester, Vermont


On August 28, 2011,  Tropical Storm Irene, which had been downgraded from a hurricane, blew through Vermont leaving a path of  devastation. Irene "pummeled the slopes and valleys of Vermont with heavy rain and wind.  Rainfall totals of 3-5” were recorded throughout the state, with many areas receiving more than 7”, especially on higher, eastern slopes.6  As a result, major flood waters and debris poured through our river ways and communities, from the Mad River valley south to the Deerfield River, affecting 225 municipalities.  In many areas, flood levels rivaled or approached the historic flood of 1927, which for 83 years has been a benchmark of Vermont floods.6  Irene’s devastation sent the state into disaster mode, and to date, the storm’s effects are still being realized." -anr.state.vt.us  




4 people in the state died as the result of the storm, and the  town of Rochester struggled to identify cemetery remains after the storm. (Click on link to read about this towns total isolation after the storm hit Vermont, in 2011).



It was a hard blow to a community already destroyed by the affects of the storm - bridges and roads were demolished - several houses were reduced to toothpicks.   "The scene at the cemetery was perhaps most shocking: a whole section washed away, bodies strewn about in the open air, caskets poking out of debris piles and glinting in the post-storm sun." - AP



"There were exposed bodies and caskets lying around the river bank, and a cemetery sexton began camping at the entrance of the cemetery to shoo away the curious and to report to family members about what graves had been affected." -AP  



The experts in some cases used DNA, in an attempt to identify the remains. "Family members were not asked to look at the actual remains. Six weeks later, about half the remains have been recovered, but only half of those have been identified." -AP  This cemetery, being well above the waterline had survived the floods of 1927 and the Great Eastern Coast Hurricane in 1938. 



2013, May ~ 28 bodies were, again, laid to rest in Woodlawn, with help from FEMA, state and local funds.  24 bodies have never been recovered, and the search has now stopped.  Some of the headstones that were recovered, have been restored, others - that are considered private property - were not recovered and the families will be ultimately responsible for their replacement.  A rededication of the cemetery took place in June, 2013.