Neighbors Help Each Other Deal With Vermont Floods

fromVPR

Thousands of Vermonters were hammered by flooding due to Tropical Storm Irene. Many say they're counting less on federal or state emergency aid. Instead, they are relying on help from their neighbors and their own resilience to get back to business.

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DAVID GREENE, host: And now to the state of Vermont. People there are trying to return to normal after flooding from Hurricane Irene. Federal emergency aid has been promised, but as Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports, many say they're counting instead on neighbors and local organizations for help.

NINA KECK: Nancy Leary's office is on the second floor of a 200-year-old building she and her husband own in Brandon, a Vermont town that got hammered by flooding.

NANCY LEARY: I got a telephone call from a friend of my in town saying you better come downtown. Our major north-south highway is a river right now, and it's in front of your building.

KECK: She and her husband raced to town, and were stunned by what they saw.

LEARY: We could see the road just falling apart down near another historic building. We could watch the building next to ours floating from its location, its foundation, onto this major highway.

KECK: Leary, a construction designer, walks down from her office to the bakery that rents space below.

LEARY: So the air conditioning was broken. The condensers were underwater - they hang out over the river.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALKING ON STAIRS)

KECK: The basement was completely submerged. About 50 local volunteers helped clean up the mud and bleach the walls. But you can still hear the river through a hole in the stone foundation.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER FLOWING)

LEARY: Well, at first I thought: Does this really matter? I have insurance.

KECK: But not flood insurance. So she called the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but was told she didn't qualify for aid. Leary's hopeful they'll get an emergency small business loan to help pay the roughly $30,000 dollars in repair costs.

LEARY: We get our rent, and we pay our expenses. We don't really have extra money to fix this.

KECK: About 45 minutes south of Brandon in Cuttingsville, Ryan Wood-Beauchamp and Kara Fitzgerald stand in their farm field, grappling with a different kind of flood problem.

RYAN WOOD-BEAUCHAMP: So, just a couple weeks ago, this was three acres of vegetables.

KECK: Last fall, Fitzgerald and Wood-Beauchamp purchased nine-and-a-half acres of lush farmland. And this spring, they launched their new community-share farm business.

KARA FITZGERALD: We grow arugula, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, kale...

KECK: But $30,000 worth of those vegetables and all their topsoil was washed away when the nearby Mill River jumped its bank and carved a new course across their farm. They didn't have flood insurance.

FITZGERALD: It sounds funny to say for people that are listening, because we're on a river, but the river was in a totally different spot. It was far away. And I had never imagined in my wildest dreams that it would actually be a scouring event, where the river would change course. So it didn't - we didn't just - we lost top soil, subsoil and then some. And it's not really recoverable.

KECK: The couple didn't qualify for FEMA aid because their house wasn't affected. They were told federal emergency small business loans don't cover farms. So they've looked closer to home. About 30 local volunteers came to help clear debris. A nearby farmer has offered them land temporarily, and the couple is hosting a fundraiser later this month.

FITZGERALD: Although it's unclear exactly how we're receiving help, there's help. So that's awesome. And we will keep leaning on the state of Vermont. The federal government is not really looking promising, but we've never really had that much faith in that.

KECK: Now, instead of working outside, the couple is spending six to eight hours a day online, trying to find a way to hold on to their business.

For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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