After Flooding, Businesses Hope To Bounce Back

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(Host) Southern Vermont is picking up the pieces from last weekend’s storm. Roads are being rebuilt and essential services restored.

But many homeowners and businesses are worried about the months ahead. Most didn’t have flood insurance, and they don’t know yet if federal disaster assistance will be available.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) The resort town of Wilmington is both a disaster area and a work zone. Construction crews are rebuilding roads and bridges washed out by the Deerfield River. Volunteers hustle to board up windows and remove mud-caked inventory from battered stores.

This is usually a tidy town that caters to the resort economy. Now dirt and mud is everywhere. And, with the sewage system out, the street corners feature a new, but much needed attraction: portable toilets.

(Manwaring) “This is a whole new element to the scenic vista of Vermont…. We went and snitched them from the TransCanada recreation areas down at the lake.”

(Dillon) Ann Manwaring is a state representative from the area. She explains that TransCanada is the utility that operates the nearby hydroelectric dam.

(Manwaring)  “Somebody called up Matt Cole who kind of runs TransCanada in the area, and said, ‘Don’t be surprised. Your Porta Potties are going to be gone.’ And that’s what these are.”

(Dillon) Manwaring is on a walking tour of the downtown village district, where almost every business has suffered major damage. She points to a pile of colorful woolen yarn that came from a nearby knitting shop ravaged by the flood.

(Manwaring) “And that was one of her display cases. And the folks who were gathering here just picked it all up and set it up in the display case and now I see it’s collapsed. It was a poignant story.”

(Dillon) One business owner in town has experienced disaster twice this year. In April, Lisa Sullivan lost her book store in Brattleboro when a fire swept through the building.

(Sullivan) “And we now we lost Bartelby’s Books here. But the devastation here in Wilmington is so great; it’s hard to think just about our business because it’s really the whole town.”

(Dillon) Sullivan says the immediate priority is repairing roads and infrastructure so the tourists can come back.

Route 9, the main east-west route, was torn apart in several places between Bennington and Brattleboro. Business owners say it has to be completely rebuilt by ski season. But Sullivan is also worried about the long-term.

(Sullivan) "Probably the biggest concern that I have is that we have enough capital in this town for these businesses to rebuild. I’m not sure that we do. I don’t think that we do. We’re going to do what we can."

(Dillon) Few business owners had flood insurance. And the federal government has not yet decided if businesses will qualify for disaster assistance.

Wilmington’s plight is not just a local concern. Colby Dix is a select board member in Dover, home to the Mount Snow ski area. Dix says Wilmington is a big draw for skiers and tourists.

(Dix) “I know  so many people – second homeowners and residents and non-residents alike – that feel so confident and strong about this area, and would choose a house here over say a Stratton or Killington because of the village, because of Wilmington, because of these surrounding towns and the culture that is here. So for us to get back to normal, it’s a long haul.”

(Dillon) But the spirit to rebuild in Wilmington is strong. Back in the village, Susan Lawrence sits on the doorstep of her flooded restaurant.

(Lawrence) “We’ll back. We’ll all be back. We’ll put this town back together. It’s a great community and they stick together.”

(Dillon) For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.

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