As Storm Cleanup Continues, Many Turn To FEMA For Help

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(Host) As the cleanup in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene continues, the rebuilding process has begun. For many, federal assistance is critical to the effort to repair the losses to homes and businesses. 

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, thousands have already requested that assistance.

(Zind) On a section of Route 14 in Royalton banks of mud plowed off the highway line the road like the snow banks of winter. Down along the river the roar of heavy equipment and the flashes of Caterpillar yellow through the trees are signs that the messy work of cleanup is still underway.   But there’s also paperwork to be done.  Royalton Representative Sarah Buxton says many of the town’s homeowners affected by the flooding are already well underway applying for help from FEMA. 

Buxton says the federal government is offering up to 30 thousand two hundred dollars for rebuilding and repairs.

(Buxton) "Some people are very excited.  They had no idea that they might be eligible for up to 30 thousand dollars.  Other people say that’s such a small amount, how can we rebuilt a home with that?"

(Zind) Buxton says she’s telling homeowners that FEMA isn’t the only source of financial help.  Help with the FEMA application process is coming from students and staff at the Vermont Law School.  They’re staffing a daily walk-in site in the school library.

(Student)  "OK, we’ll start the registration process."

(Zind) On Tuesday evening, Kay Ingraham came in for help.  Her husband’s truck business took a hit when 12 feet of water inundated the building where the vehicles are serviced.

(Ingraham) "If we can get help with the cleanup and help putting the building back together, because the building will have to be gutted, that would be wonderful."

(Zind) For people who want to talk directly with someone from FEMA, there’s a toll free line and online disaster assistance.  FEMA has also established Disaster Recovery Centers in Barre, Brattleboro, and Waterbury.

Dick Kelly is manager of the FEMA center in Barre.  He says the government is trying to get money to people as quickly as possible once the paperwork is done.

(Kelly) "Right now with all these disasters going on its hard to pinpoint the amount of time. I would say weeks; not months, not years, weeks."

(Zind)  As of Tuesday FEMA had approved $4.3 million in assistance.  State officials say more than 2,000 Vermont homeowners, renters and business owners have registered for federal help and the number is expected to climb.    

On Wednesday, Karen Colby of Randolph came to the FEMA center in Barre.  She needed financial help rebuilding the campground she and her husband own, which was extensively damaged in the flooding. As a self-employed couple with children, the property was their only source of income.  Colby discovered that the only money available was in the form of a low interest loan, which she said would only add to their debt.

(Colby) "If you’ve made an investment in your business to build it and then what we’re offered for assistance is to go into debt further, I don’t know how businesses can recoup."

(Zind) Colby left the FEMA center feeling disappointed and uncertain of her family’s future. 

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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