In Jamaica, Morrison Still Waiting For Resolution

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(Host) As Tropical Storm Irene becomes a memory for some Vermonters, for others the disaster is still unfolding.

In October, VPR spoke with Brett Morrison. His house in Jamaica was one of four in town swept away in the flood, along with the land beneath them. VPR’s Susan Keese paid Morrison a visit recently and files this update.

(Keese) The day after Irene town crews in Jamaica built a temporary road through the chasm where Morrison’s lawn and living room used to be.

For weeks, construction vehicles and traffic rumbled past the cliff edge where Morrison’s back deck dangled over empty space. It was all that was left of his home, his kids’ toys, the accumulated evidence of nine years on Water Street.

He had a job to go to and  short-term lodging – a vacation home in Londonderry. But he was drawn back to Jamaica

(Morrison) "It just was difficult being somewhere else. Like if I’m here, I should be helping somebody dig. Particularly if it were raining. You know, to be elsewhere and sort of conscious of the fact that there were people there, perhaps watching that last bit of bank wash in that could take something that matters or not being able to get to something that did matter."

(Keese) The four homes carried off by the flood were dashed against a bridge and jumbled all together on a string of debris islands in the West River.  Morrison felt as if pieces of himself were out there, exposed to the weather. 

(Morrison) "There were various lessons in the futility of attempted salvage, which the biggest lesson was just – you’re not going to find it. Maybe in my case you’d see something three layers down that you wished you could get to…"

(Keese) But the tangle was impenetrable. Anything he pried loose was damaged… or one of a pair.

(Morrison) "I’d pretty much figured out by Columbus Day that the walking and looking and trying to find was not really emotionally healthy for me." 

(Keese) Morrison shares custody of his three children with his ex-wife. By Halloween, he says the kids were worried about his next living arrangement. The owners of his Londonderry ski chalet hoped to reclaim their house by Thanksgiving.

Then another out-of-state homeowner offered her Stratton Mountain townhouse through the end of the school year.

Morrison says the town house is great. But the tangle of paper work and legal issues goes on.

The temporary town road through what used to be Morrison’s land raised questions that at first even the town couldn’t answer.

(Morrison) "And I wasn’t sure whether there was some entity, whether it was state or town or federal, was going to tell me, ‘you can’t go back to that land that’s getting redesignated, nonbuildable, nonlivable land. I now believe that isn’t going to happen."

(Keese) The decision about the road was made by FEMA. The agency was willing to pay to restore it to its pre-Irene site.

The town is also applying for the FEMA Hazard Mitigation program. It would pay 75 percent of the value of the four lost properties if the town agrees not to rebuild on the flood-prone land.

Morrison isn’t sure whether he’ll take the FEMA buyout if the application succeeds, or try to rebuild on what’s left of his land.

He still has a mortgage on his property. His lender offered a 90 day payment holiday, which has since expired.

But just before Christmas, after weeks of calls, he heard from a bank officer who seemed to understand his unusual situation.

That understanding means a lot. Morrison says the kindness of neighbors and strangers has been a high point in this ongoing disaster. And when he meets someone who seems to ‘get’ what he’s going through, it can make his day.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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