Hidden beneath the highway in Royalton you'll find a story of survival; a dairy farming family making a comeback against all odds.
"We figured with as much water as there was in here, that all the cows were dead. So it was a good feeling to hear them," farmer Penny Severance said.
But Perley Farm lost nearly half its herd the day Tropical Storm Irene hit; 25 cows swept away by the raging White River, dozens more facing hoof rot and udder infections. The family says it's a miracle that any of the youngest survived.
"It pretty much healed my heart to know that I still had one of my boys left," farmer Buddy Severance said, petting Monster. Monster's twin didn't make it.
Brut was just 3-weeks-old when the storm hit. Today, Brut's a bit bigger, but just as playful.
"He loves to give kisses. Yes, you do," Penny Severance said.
One year later, they've rebuilt their herd and then some.
"We're a little more," Penny said with a laugh.
The family now has a full barn and a pen full of babies.
Since Irene, 18 heifers have been born and milk production has surpassed pre-storm levels. The family says the cows fought so hard to stay alive that giving up was not an option.
"We just take each day as it comes and do what we have to do," Penny said. "We still have a lot of work ahead of us to do, but that's OK. We'll make it."
Outside the barn the signs of Irene are more obvious. The road leading to the farm is slowly crumbling into the White River and the family waits for the town to receive the federal funds to fix it.
Thanks to generous neighbors and complete strangers, the farm family got by with donated hay and got help replacing equipment and fixing fences.
"People were unbelievable," said Harland Perley, who owns Perley Farm. "There were hundreds of people who arrived here with wheelbarrows, shovels; 'what do you want us to do?'"
Then there's the hayfield. Last year it was coated in silt, today it's a beautiful array of sunflowers and corn.
"We'll always survive. I was raised that way," Harland said. "My father always told me don't put your values on material things. If you do and you lose them, you never can start over because you're devastated, you're done."
Through it all the family has refused to dwell on the negatives and believes in the end one of the state's worst storms highlighted what's best about the Green Mountains.
"Everybody forgot their differences and they just pulled together," Penny said. "I guess maybe that's what you call Vermont Strong."
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