In Jamaica, A Long Road To Recovery

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Jamaica is one town whose landscape was dramatically changed by the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Irene. Three and a half weeks later, the sound of heavy equipment is everywhere, and progress is being made.

But as VPR’s Susan Keese reports, any thought of getting back to normal, is a long way off.

(Keese) The line between a state of emergency and the beginning of recovery isn’t always clear.

(Clark) “We are still in an emergency state.”

(Keese) Lexa Clark chairs the Jamaica select board. She’s standing near the village center, looking at a broad, rocky chasm where the Route 30 bridge used to be.

It’s a state road. But Clark says it’s also the main road out of town and a major link between the Interstate and several ski resorts.

(Clark) “This bridge at first they thought they were going to just have to replace the half that broke. But I guess it was not safe.”

(Keese) Now a big yellow machine sits deep in the hole, breaking down the bridge’s last remnants with a jackhammer.  

Clark says the state isn’t planning to replace the bridge until after the winter. She points to a spot just upstream where a temporary bridge is expected to go in soon.

(Clark) “I’m not sure when that’s going to be completed. They’re hoping, I think, within the month. So at least the traffic will be able to flow through Route 30 and go up to Stratton or wherever they have to go and keep that going. Water Street, that’s still temporary. That’ll be temporary for quite some time.”

(Keese) Water Street, a town road, is serving as a temporary bypass around the village and the Route 30 bridge. Cars and trucks have to wait their turn to navigate its muddy single lane.

Much of the original Water Street disappeared in the flood, along with four homes. Clark says the displaced families have places to stay for the time being – but they lost everything.

(Clark) “I’m sure they have questions for us and questions for FEMA, because their houses are completely gone, a lot of the land is gone. We’re not in that stage yet where we have the answers for them. We’re working on that.”

(Keese) In the hills above town, there are still roads that aren’t accessible.

Clark shakes her head, thinking of the sheer quantity of debris that has to be removed from the brooks and rivers before they freeze, so they won’t become a new hazard when the snow melts next spring.

(Clark) “You know, you feel so helpless. You want to do so much, and you just can’t. But I guess just being there for them – everybody being there for people, which they were – made it a little easier.”
(Keese) That spirit is clear at the local church, which has doubled as a distribution center for tools and cleaning supplies since the flood.

Clara Robinson, a member of the church, spearheaded the clothing drive. She’s been overwhelmed by donations.

(Robinson) “We have been outfitting everybody that was flood related. Those families came first. Anybody who had any loss at all came in and chose whatever they wanted.”

(Keese) Robinson says those immediate needs – food clothing, shelter — have now been met.

(Robinson) “We’re past that emergency stage, definitely.”

(Keese) She says the clothes remaining will be sold to help with fundraising for whatever is next.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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