Tuesday April 30, 2013

More than a year and a half after Tropical Storm Irene and the flooding it caused ravaged southern Vermont, glimmers of it’s destruction and our efforts to repair are still all around us.

Consider, for a moment, two front page stories from Monday’s Reformer: one detailing the efforts to continue renovations on Wilmington’s Memorial Hall; another applauding the community effort to repair the South Newfane Schoolhouse. What do both of these sites have in common? Both damaged by the floods, they served as a community gathering center as Vermonters in those areas tried to come to grips with the havoc caused by Mother Nature in the days following Irene.

"During Irene (the schoolhouse) became a gathering spot for everyone in South Newfane," Dave Roberts told the Reformer. "We felt like this was something that was preserved and after Irene we decided we wanted to do more to save it."

The building needs a new floor, and so volunteers stepped up over the weekend to pull up the old one so that, over the coming weeks, a new one could be installed. Residents have also been fundraising to install a new heating system.

Meanwhile, in Wilmington, a document calling for proposals for work on Memorial Hall features a laundry list of items in need of repair: The basement, including the mechanical room, was significantly damaged; The boiler was rebuilt but is now failing and is in need of replacement; now sought is an efficient heating and cooling system; and upgrades to the electrical system.


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In both cases, the towns are trying to make better what was once damaged, echoing sentiments we’ve heard and reported many times over the past 18-plus months.

In addition to buildings, many folks are still trying to pick up the pieces after their entire homes were washed away. From a report in the April 9 Reformer: "The state is on schedule to close most residents’ Tropical Storm Irene-related government aid cases by late summer, meaning they will have safe housing by the second anniversary of flooding that damaged more than 7,000 homes," according to a report by Gov. Peter Shumlin.

According to an issued report, "394 cases in the disaster care management program have been closed and 277 cases continue to receive services with six months remaining on the $2.4 million grant from FEMA to support individuals and families affected by the storm."

Far be it for our countryside to be forgotten in all of this. From a story published on April 10: "The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation recently approved a grant for a program called Trees For Streams, which aims to improve land within Windham County along streams affected by Tropical Storm Irene."

Dana Ruppert, project director of Windham County Natural Resources Conservation District, told the Reformer that his group was aiming to re-establish vegetation along areas that were hit hard by the floods.

"We’ll be working with farmers and landowners, trying to figure out areas or projects are that the largest resource concerned. Then we’ll step in and help re-vegetate that area," he said.

Surely stories will continue to trickle out in the coming months leading to the second anniversary. Let these stories serve two purposes: to illustrate just how serious the destruction caused by Irene’s flooding was; but, more importantly, to show how resilient Vermonters continue to be, a true testament to the "Vermont Strong" license plates so many folks display proudly on their vehicles.