'I stepped out of the car and was nearly swept off my feet.'
-- Phil Camp
Phil Camp, publisher and owner of The Vermont Standard of Woodstock, stands booted in mud, talking with a neighbor near a wall of the newspaper’s building ripped loose and leaning from the force of a flood caused by Tropical Storm Irene in August. For more photos of the Vermont Standard’s battle with Irene and back, please click here.
aftermath of Irene’s floods
In late August, Phil Camp and the staff at The Vermont Standard of Woodstock were scrambling to maintain the weekly newspaper’s record of never missing an edition in its 159-year history. Its building was severely damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene on Sunday, Aug. 28, three days before its next edition was scheduled to go to print.
“We were totally wiped out. We had nothing to go on but our desire to never miss an edition,” Camp, owner and publisher of the Vermont Standard, said.
Unable to work in the building because of damage from the flood, the staff set up a temporary office in another building, and successfully published that week’s newspaper.
In the eight months
since Irene, the Vermont Standard has recovered from the flooding. The
newspaper has permanently relocated and has had increases in its advertising
and newspaper sales. The newspaper is running ahead of last year in
Recovery wasn’t easy. Irene swept into Vermont and forced residents into survival mode. At the Vermont Standard, the timing and speed of the storm voided its evacuation plan, which called for employees to remove equipment from the building through a garage door in the back, according to a presentation Estey gave Jan. 29 at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. The presentation was about disaster management and showed students the effects of Irene on the Vermont Standard, which has an average circulation of 4,800.
When Camp arrived at the building late that Sunday morning, water was already coming over the bank of the Ottauquechee River, 20 feet up from the river’s normal level, by Camp’s account. There was no time to rescue any equipment or other items inside the building.
“The only thing I could save was the delivery van,” Camp said.
After driving the van to higher ground, he returned in his own vehicle to take pictures.
“I stepped out of the car and was nearly swept off my feet,” Camp said.
Water rose head-high above floor
At the peak of the flood, water in the Vermont Standard’s single-story building was about five and a half feet high, according to the Tuck presentation.
By the time the staff returned the morning after Irene hit, the water had receded, leaving behind about a foot and a half of mud, Camp said.
Looking back at the disaster, Camp talked earnestly about what happened, but also managed some lighthearted comments about it.
“Worst of all, the coffee pot got destroyed,” Camp quipped in a telephone interview with the Bulletin.
After receiving a phone call from Camp, George Helmer, owner of One Lincoln Corners in Woodstock, invited the newspaper into free space in his office building. On the Monday after the flood, the staff moved in, using picnic tables and lawn chairs as working surfaces. They stayed there, rent-free, for three months.
Helmer and Camp grew up together, and although the personal relationship was beneficial, Helmer said his act of kindness was mainly motivated by community reasons.
“I would have done it for Woodstock’s newspaper (even if Camp didn’t own it),” Helmer said.
Hastening to get the next edition together, staff members at the Vermont Standard had to put the mud and destruction behind them quickly. The office’s 10 iMac computers were destroyed, and data had to be salvaged from the machines’ hard drives. Six new iMacs were purchased and set up in the temporary office.
Correspondents who had no power were unable to email their reports in and had to find other ways to deliver their work. One correspondent had to drive 80 miles to get to Woodstock instead of the usual 12, because of flood-closed roads. Another delivered a report via all-terrain vehicle.
Website becomes go-to news source
Although the Vermont Standard’s website was less than a year old when Irene hit, it quickly became the go-to source for immediate news about road closings and other effects of the storm, Camp said. The Vermont Standard’s Webmaster, Kat Fulcher, asked readers for storm damage updates and photos. Traffic on the Vermont Standard’s website, the place with the latest storm-related information, increased, Camp said. According to the Tuck presentation, unique visitors spiked from about 14,000 a week to about 150,000 a week.
“(The website) made an enormous difference in being able to serve customers,” Camp said.
Estey said the Vermont Standard’s staff of four full-time and four part-time employees worked efficiently through the disaster. The staff’s knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses was especially helpful, he said.
“Everybody pulled together,” Estey said.
The hard work of the Vermont Standard’s employees was complemented by a series of generous acts from community members, Camp said.
Neighbors and readers stopped by the new building with coffee and snacks. Advertisers paid their bills early. One local businessman, who had never advertised with the Vermont Standard, wrote the newspaper a $2,000 check for future advertising. Camp said the businessman, whom he declined to name, has yet to redeem any advertising.
“It’s incredible how people responded to the flood,” Camp said.
Irene inflicted other damage in and around Woodstock besides what it did to the Vermont Standard’s building. The town sustained more than $1 million worth of damage to roads and bridges. Power was out the week of the storm from Sunday afternoon to Thursday morning. Businesses and homes were severely damaged, especially those along the Ottauquechee River. There were no fatalities in the area, though.
Despite all the damage, the Vermont Standard didn’t lose any advertisers or subscribers after the storm.
“The community supported us enormously,” Camp said.
60-page edition days after flood
Through the employees’ hard work and the community support, the Vermont Standard published a 60-page paper Friday, Sept. 2, a day and a half delayed from its normal publishing time, Camp said. That upheld the Standard’s record of never missing a weekly publication in its 159-year existence.
For that edition of the Vermont Standard, the Valley News of Lebanon, N.H., contributed its own generous act. The company, which prints the Standard, sent it a bill with the memo: “Paid in Full.”
“They didn’t charge us a nickel for that week,” Camp said.
Advertisers proved to be crucial to the Vermont Standard’s survival. Monetary losses came to almost $350,000, according to Camp and the Tuck presentation. Flood insurance covered only $55,000 worth of damage. The Standard had additional support in the form of a $100,000 line of credit at Lake Sunapee Bank in Woodstock and a $100,000 loan from the Vermont Economic Development Authority. Neither was used.
Camp said the newspaper was able to maintain operations through cash flow earned from advertising.
With the newspaper temporarily located at Lincoln Corners, Camp surveyed the damage to the old property, and decided that he had neither the time nor the money to fix it. He sold the property to Patrick Crowl, founder of the Woodstock Farmers’ Market, located across the street from the Vermont Standard’s old building. Camp said Crowl plans to use the space for storage or parking.
The sale spurred Camp to begin looking at new locations for the Vermont Standard. After reviewing several options, Camp chose to stay at Lincoln Corners. The office was officially opened Nov. 18, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and state Rep. Alison Clarkson, among others.
“It’s wonderful. It’s a great location,” Camp said.
Helmer was delighted to have the Vermont Standard’s staff members stay, too. Helmer said he wanted them to stay from the moment they walked through the door.
New home above ground floor and flood plain
Others at the newspaper are happy with the relocation as well. Located about a mile from the previous location, Lincoln Corners is far enough away from the Ottauquechee River that the Vermont Standard’s home base is no longer in the flood plain. Another bonus: The newspaper is on the second floor of a multi-business office building.
“We definitely wanted to be out of the flood plain,” Estey said.
Almost eight months after Irene ripped apart buildings and roads across Vermont, the newspaper and the state are settling into a new normal, Camp said.
“We’re back; we’re all the way back,” Camp said.
Estey agreed: “We’re chugging along here. I’m very happy and impressed with how we’ve done.”
Additional advances have followed the newspaper’s recovery. The Vermont Standard debuted its e-edition, a digital replica of the newspaper, March 8.
Looking back, Camp praised the resiliency of his staff and the compassion shown among Vermonters, which he calls the spirit of Vermont.
“Vermont really came alive. This was special, the way Vermont responded,” Camp said.
As much as the Woodstock area supported the Vermont Standard, the newspaper was also essential to the community.
Rep. Clarkson, a Democrat who represents Woodstock and Reading, said the community needed the newspaper.
“Never were they more needed, and never were they more challenged,” Clarkson said.
Clarkson called the staff at the Standard valiant, and noted the importance of the newspaper to record events in the aftermath of Irene. Never missing a beat, Camp and his staff dealt with being victims, while covering the rest of the disaster, Clarkson said.
“They took one heartbeat and got back to work,” she said.
Even though the Standard has recovered from Irene, Camp still feels the weight of the damage. Some things, like the old building, will never be recovered. But in a staff that multitasked like never before and a community that was willing to help out, Camp sees the positive impacts of the storm too.
“It’s almost folklore now. I think people will be talking about Irene 100 years from now,” Camp said.
Jon Estey. general manager of The Vermont Standard of Woodstock, sorting through flood-damaged files in the newspaper’s former office.
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