Plymouth Rallies Around Residents Who Lost Homes To Irene

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(Host) More than 100 houses across the state were completely destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene. Now, their owners are just beginning the process of figuring out how to put their lives back together.

VPR’s Samantha Fields reports that the small town of Plymouth is rallying around several neighbors who lost homes.

(Fields) Where Route 100 runs through Plymouth, evidence of Irene is everywhere. In the curled, torn up pieces of asphalt, in the jagged stretches that are newly filled in with dirt and gravel and in the very out-of-place items that dot the edge of the road.

(Mordecai) "That table right there. I picked that up in an auction in Delaware, brought it back home to Vermont. Yep. That was my dining room table."

(Fields) "That your couch, too?"

(Mordecai) "Yeah. That couch came from the living room. That other table back there was my mom’s. The table’s there. The leg is back here in a pile/"

(Fields) Susan Mordecai is walking along Route 100, a few houses down from what’s left of her own house in Plymouth.

Strewn across the dirt, off to the side of the road, she can spot her stuff everywhere. Photos of her son. Torn book covers. A pile of CDs. Her much-loved copy of "A Prairie Home Companion," full of caked mud.

(Mordecai) "You can only scrounge so much, and then where do you put it? My car’s a mess. It’s total trash from the dirt. I have dirt in my shoes every night. The dirt’s horrible."

(Fields) When Irene poured rain down on Plymouth two and a half weeks ago, Mordecai was prepared, in some ways. She’d bought a generator, and pulled a few things together.

(Mordecai) "The night before I had packed my writing, my passport, my checkbook, and for nothing, my homeowner’s policy. I packed a laundry basket with blankets, towels and some clothing."

(Fields) But that was it. She didn’t want to go too crazy. That Sunday morning, she sat looking out over the little brook that runs next to her house watching the water. And then a massive tree came smashing through a downstairs window.

(Mordecai) "And I grabbed the containers I had packed, put them in my car and when I was getting into my car in the driveway, there were bottles floating and shelves tumbling. And I put that car into reverse and I don’t know how I did it but I got out."

(Fields) She got out and the water got in. It tore off the side of her house, and swept almost everything away. Leaving a thick layer of mud where the floor once was.

(Mordecai) "Everything that was in the downstairs of my house is somewhere along route 100. Everything. I miss my bed and I miss my bathroom. I miss that. Because that was mine. And I don’t have it. That’s what I miss. The other things were stuff. It was the beginning of my day."

(Fields) Mordecai’s house is one of several in Plymouth that is a total loss. She’s been told she won’t even be able to rebuild on the property. So much of her little plot of land simply washed away.

Two houses down, her elderly neighbors, Dorothy and Roger Pingree, lost everything, too. Their daughter in law, Michelle Pingree, says they’re struggling to accept it.

(Michelle Pingree) They raised their four kids there. And they know, it’s setting in now, but it’s very hard because they know they can never go back.

(Fields) The Pingrees also lost their farm, just down the road. They didn’t have insurance on either property.  

Jill Davies is the volunteer coordinator of the town’s recovery assistance center. She’s helping people like the Pingrees and Susan Mordecai get their paperwork in order for FEMA and look for other grants and loans to help them rebuild.

(Davies) "The maximum that FEMA will give is $30,000, and that’s not much if you’ve got to rebuild your home."

(Fields) Right now, Susan Mordecai is trying to figure out what to do next. She just got into a rental house that she’ll have until May or June. Then, she doesn’t know.

(Mordecai) "I kinda think I need to do more for people. In what way I’m not sure.  Will I change my life 360? Perhaps. Will it remain the same? Perhaps. Right now I don’t know. My house is a total loss, and sad for me, I have a mortgage. So I’m selling Plymouth rocks, if you know anyone who wants to buy some."

(Fields) But every day gets a little better. She reminds herself that it was just stuff she lost. Her heart goes out to farmers, and others who lost more than she did. And she’s thankful… for the community that’s rallied around her.

(Mordecai) "I’d like to have something always here in Plymouth.  Because of what Plymouth has meant to me in the most difficult moments of my life. You know, you have to think of what family really is. Yeah it’s DNA but it’s also people reaching out."

(Fields) People reaching out to share their condolences, people offering her places to stay and help with paperwork, and people walking with her along Route 100, picking through the dirt, helping her salvage a few things that matter.

For VPR News, I’m Samantha Fields.

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