Southern towns seek relief after weeks of rain

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(Host) Federal Emergency Management officials have been in Vermont this week. They’ve been assessing damage from storms that have occurred over the past three weeks. Preliminary estimates already exceed the eligibility threshold of a million dollars in damages. But it’s still too early to say whether the state will qualify as a federal disaster area.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) The series of storms spanning the past three weeks are being treated as a single weather event. The storms began with heavy winds and a tornado that touched down in Bennington on July 21. They continued with downpours and flooding that have led the towns Thetford, Cavendish and Chester to declare local emergencies. The most recent damage occurred on Wednesday morning when flash flooding was reported in Orleans County.

A spokesman for Vermont’s emergency management agency, which is working closely with the federal officials, says it makes sense to group the storms together because of their collective impact on state resources. Also, taken singly none of the events would reach the level of damage necessary for a federal declaration of disaster.
FEMA representatives say most of the damage has been to roadways, bridges and culverts. The worst of it has been in Windham, Bennington, Windsor and Rutland counties.

Preliminary estimates place the damage well over the million dollar threshold for federal disaster aid. But the declaration – which must be made by President Bush on the recommendation of Vermont Governor Jim Douglas – isn’t a simple formula.

FEMA spokesman John Foster says the governor must also show that recovery costs are more than local governments, insurers and voluntary agencies can afford.

(Foster) “The governor of course has already applied to the federal government for FEMA that’s why we’re here doing this preliminary damage assessment. But basically the federal government can’t do anything that the state is capable of doing.”

(Keese) Governor Douglas visited several of the affected towns earlier this week. He’s said he’s optimistic about the prospects of getting federal help for necessary repairs to public property.

But for private homeowners who suffered damage it may be a different story. In Windham, where some of the worst damage occured in a downpour August 3, Elsie and Norman Sharon’s spare room and garage were ankle deep in muck.

(Elsie Sharon) “See the mud was right up on the steps there? See that’s supposed to be a carpet under there.”
(Norman Sharon) “I’ve shoveled out some but we’re waiting a while to see if we can get some help.”

(Keese) The Vermont Emergency Management Agency says that some low interest loans may be available for homeowners like the Sharons. But damage to private property falls into a separate FEMA category. And there hasn’t been enough damage to warrant FEMA action on that score.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Windham.

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