"The Perfect Storm" is the standard-bearer for nonfiction storytelling that involves the forces of nature. Sebastian Junger's best-selling narrative brought to life the fishermen of Gloucester, Mass., and the roiling seas that eventually swallowed them in 1991.

Junger's prose is so perfectly coiffed it seems to suck the oxygen from the creative room for those following him. But there is plenty to recount from nature's wrath, as author Peggy Shinn underscores in her debut book, "Deluge: Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont's Flash Floods, and How One Small State Saved Itself."

Shinn pursued the project after reporting for the Wall Street Journal on the August 2011 floods that surprisingly stranded a dozen Vermont towns after Irene swept through.

The human toll she had seen on television in the aftermath of countless hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons and earthquakes suddenly took on another dimension when it came to her front porch.

Shinn was one of the few reporters to witness the destruction firsthand after riding a mountain bike for miles to reach isolated towns where all roads had been washed away. As she writes in her introduction, "Loaded down with a ham sandwich, two energy bars, a half-gallon of water, cell phone, camera, notepad, pens and digital recorder, I pedaled up the road and through the woods."

While her on-the-ground reporting resulted in vivid descriptions of the devastation, Shinn soon realized the story of the calamity and, ultimately, restoration, was just beginning. This wasn't some reporter parachuting into the disaster zone for a one-time story. The eighth-generation Vermonter lives in Rutland, Vt., just west of the Green Mountains where neighboring villages were stranded.

Shinn returned to the scene to flesh out the story in the hours, days, weeks and months after the flooding. She eventually followed a handful of protagonists through their ordeals to develop the core theme of "Deluge." The book blends the human side of a natural disaster with digestible explanations of meteorology that are central to understanding how a landlocked state could be severely hit by a tropical storm.

Without such diligent reporting, these stories might have been quickly forgotten, along with their invaluable lessons. After all, the media focused on the fact Irene passed by New York City with little more than a quick hello.

And with Hurricane Sandy's destruction last year in New York and on the Jersey shoreline, Irene is nothing but a distant memory, except for those who lost their homes and businesses. "This was not pastoral Vermont," Shinn writes of her initial reaction. "It was a war zone."

Then "Deluge" gives blow-by-blow accounts so vivid the reader is transported to this narrow region in south-central Vermont that is the focal point of the book. It starts in the town of Pittsfield (pop. 546), framed by verdant terrain. On a Sunday afternoon in late August, Heather Grev was preparing for a hurricane party after storm-proofing the clapboard home she and her husband rented.

Within minutes she found herself fighting for her life as water from the overflowing Tweed River turned her tranquil town into a life-and-death struggle.

The more time Shinn spent in the disaster zone the more she realized something greater was at work. Despite the sudden desperation, Vermonters rallied around each other and opened their homes and hearts to those hit hardest by the floods.

Instead of waiting for state transportation crews to begin rebuilding roads, private local construction companies went to work to reconnect isolated towns with the outside world. Without power for weeks, some tiny communities bonded together with daily town meetings to create a structure by which neighbor could help neighbor.

"Deluge" ends with a hopeful tone. Unlike New Orleans, where so many people struggled to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Vermont's flood victims got on with it quickly.

A few scars remain, but the American "can-do" spirit is branded into these Vermonters like cattle.

Staff writer Elliott Almond is author of "Surfing: Mastering Waves from Basic to Intermediate." He can be reached at 408-920-5865; follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/elliottalmond.

University Press
of New England
$27.95, 200 pages