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Woman describes flood water rescue

September 6, 2011
Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — Charlotte Peterson and her brother Charles Orville “Mickey” Peterson were hunkered down in their Route 67A home as Tropical Storm Irene dumped rain outside. They thought they would be safe at home, but as the Walloomsac River spilled over its banks, it quickly became apparent they needed help.

“In the beginning, nobody really evacuated down here until I called 911. I told them you gotta send someone down here to evacuate us. The water came up so fast,” Peterson, 67, said a week after she and her brother were part of a dramatic rescue mission that has left her brother hospitalized.

Irene’s torrential rains pounded the area, creating raging rivers out of normally serene waterways. The rising Walloomsac essentially created a new river down Route 67A near the Paper Mill covered bridge. Water flowed without restraint, destroying the road and flooding homes.

Meanwhile, Peterson and her brother waited for help to arrive. Members of the North Bennington Fire Department mobilized and approached the Petersons’ home with a boat. Peterson said she and her brother were loaded in and began making their way to safety.

Then the problems began.

“We got up to the picket fence and they couldn’t get us any farther. They tried to pull and it still wouldn’t go. The boat started filling up with water. That’s when I slipped out and I grabbed a tree in my yard and held onto a limb. In the meantime, my brother was hanging onto

the picket fence and there was a guy trying to put a lifejacket on him,” Peterson said.Peterson would cling to the tree — and life — for an hour while rescue personnel struggled against the fast-moving flood water. “I kept hollering please help me. And they kept saying they’ll be coming pretty soon. I was fighting the debris that was coming down. There was an awful lot of debris — trees and everything else,” she said. “I was going from one hand to the other hand. I got a lot of bruises.”

A ladder truck from the Bennington Fire Department would eventually be brought in to pluck Peterson from the water.

“It was over an hour for me to get me out of the tree limb,” she said. “They lifted me up on a basket and they took me out that way and rushed me to the hospital.”

Peterson said she thought about drowning, but was more concerned about her brother. “More or less I was worried about my brother,” she said.

Meanwhile, Peterson could see the efforts to save her brother, who had also slipped from the boat. “Mickey” had been hanging on, Peterson said, refusing to let go of the fence. “They told him to let go but he wouldn’t let go. He was gripping the fence. They forced him to let go and that’s when he went downstream,” she said.

He slipped under the water out of sight, but was eventually pulled out of the water with a rope, Peterson said. But not until after his heart had stopped beating, she said.

“He had drowned but they got him out of the water and brought him back. Then he was in a coma, but he started to come out of that yesterday,” Peterson said.

“Mickey” was also rushed to the hospital, driven in an ambulance by Bennington Police Sgt. David Dutcher so the two Bennington Rescue personnel could perform CPR along the way.

Peterson said her brother remains in critical condition at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. Although emerging from a coma, he faces a significant recovery, she said.

“They say it’s going to be a long time. They really didn’t think he was going to make it, but he has,” she said.

The home they were evacuating from is salvageable, according to Peterson, but will require significant work.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at

One Comment leave one →
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