Thursday September 1, 2011

MORETOWN -- Patty Riccardi and her fellow teachers at Moretown Elementary School could have extended their summer vacations when their school was flooded. Instead, they donned rubber gloves and boots and offered to clean out the homes of their students' disaster-stricken families.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Irene unleashed a torrent of water on Vermont on Sunday, killing at least three people and closing hundreds of roads. More than 11,000 residents were without power as of Wednesday afternoon. But the devastation brought by the storm only increased the flood of volunteerism and generosity in the state.

"We're just helping the community clean up, helping out in any way they need us," Riccardi said Wednesday.

The normally quiet Main Street through Moretown village was a hub of activity as friends and neighbors joined the owners of houses flooded by the Mad River move sodden furniture and other items onto front lawns.

The school, which had been set to open Tuesday, had served briefly as a village evacuation center, until it flooded, its septic system backed up and the carpets soiled. A professional cleaning crew was working in the school Wednesday, Principal Duane Pierson said.

"We'd love to be open the day after Labor Day," only a week later than scheduled, Pierson said. "That would be amazing."

Across Vermont, residents who hadn't been affected by flooding poured into areas that were and offered to help to friends, family and strangers.

"I went to work the last couple of days, but I felt guilty for not helping my friends and neighbors," said Katy Grace, 32, who said her employer, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, offers time off for community volunteerism. She was among those who showed up to help Wednesday morning in Moretown village.

Companies stepped in, too. They included regional supermarket chain Hannaford's, which donated cash, food and water to the Vermont Food Bank and set up kiosks in stores for customers to make their own donations, and Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, which created an online map showing road closures and heavily flooded areas.

For all the help that was being offered, more was needed.

The Red Cross, United Way and other relief agencies issued special appeals for help. Many communities set up funds devoted to recovery efforts in their own areas.

The state's 211 human services information number was overwhelmed with calls from people seeking help and information, said Susan Allen, spokeswoman for Gov. Peter Shumlin, and was seeking volunteers to help take calls. It posted an appeal for volunteers at www.vtresponse.wordpress.com , where other offers of and requests for help were posted.

One volunteered her house in Rochester, a hard-hit town in the Green Mountains of central Vermont.

"I have no idea what the condition of my house is, but if it is still there and safe (the red house about a mile south of town, diagonal from Wenda's, 2 houses north of Bradley Johnson) anyone needing a place to sleep is welcome," it said. "There is a queen size bed upstairs and a cot in one of the closets. Wenda has a set of keys."