Mud, sweat and tears

Thursday September 1, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- Business owners along Flat Street have spent the last three days assessing the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene and although clean-up effort will take months and cost millions of dollars, it's the community that has kept its spirits high.

Hundreds of people have come to help clean stores' mud-caked inventories, floors and shelving units throughout the past three days, and for Lynde Motorsports owner Stan Lynde, the selfless giving means everything to him.

Water from Whetstone Brook, 48 inches high, rushed into and alongside his shop ruining thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Lynde said that his business, like many in downtown Brattleboro, didn't have flood insurance.

"Twenty friends showed up Monday morning and we worked till 7 p.m., to get rid of all the mud," he said. "Some of them I didn't even know."

One man whose spent nearly eight hours per day helping clean tools and put the shop back together, Lynde met at a coffee shop.

"He just asked me if I needed help with anything. I said sure and he's been here every day since working his butt off," Lynde said.

No word has come from the Federal Government about assistance, he said, and the outpouring of assistance from friends and strangers has defined reliability for Lynde.

"All these volunteers show me who I can count on in this country," he said. "The best insurance in the world is friends."

Lynde said town employees have been tremendous and have "bent over backwards" to help him and the other business owners along Flat Street by removing the massive amount of mud.

Across the street at the Church Building complex, dozens of black garbage bags were piled up as people moved out boxes of files from a dental office, and piled up water-damaged computers, cables, monitors and people's personal effects from other businesses.

More than 100 people from various cleaning crews and volunteers worked up and down Flat Street helping to remove the debris.

Elissa Bhanti, who owns Adivasi with her husband, Shram Bhanti, lives near Flat Street and when she heard about the possible flooding she rushed to the store to move as much of her store's inventory off the ground as possible.

"At first I thought everything would be OK," she said. "But water quickly started to come through the foundation."

Soon after the water penetrated the store, she had to leave because of a potential electrical issue, she said.

The Bhanti's know disaster well. Just about 10 years ago, following the attacks of Sept. 11, someone started a fire in their store as a hate crime.

"Every decade disaster strikes," Bhanti said.

Like Lynde, Bhanti was overwhelmed by the community's support following both the arson and Sunday's flood.

On Monday, 80 volunteers, from 7 to 70 years old, showed up to help empty the basement, lay out rugs to dry and clean and organize the store's inventory.

"It means so much to me to have them here," Bhanti said. "It's a hard time for retailers and even people with young children who couldn't help necessarily brought food for others. It makes us feel confident that we can rebuild."

Bhanti said she had a "little breakdown" when she was told, like Lynde, that her business wasn't protected against a flood, but because of local and state government officials' pledge to help, she's sure everything will be OK.

"All I have is gratitude," she said.

Cotton Team, a natural disaster clean-up company based out of Houston, Texas, was called in to help. The New York branch brought in a work crew from Massachusetts. They spent Wednesday removing plumping pipes, rugs and other various equipment from the Latchis hotel and used hoses to clean off what they could.

In the shoe department of Sam's Outdoor Outfitters, Michelle Ross was working Sunday when the water levels began to rise.

"It was like being in an Indiana Jones movie," she said.

Ross said she and another employee rushed down to the store's basement and moved as much of the inventory out of the way as possible but the water filled the area quickly and soon pair of shoes were floating everywhere.

"Just as we were putting shoes away the water began cascading down," she said. "We came back upstairs and water was pouring through the doors."

A dark sludge, nearly a foot thick, had covered the floors and water filled up the store 5 feet high, destroying everything except what was on the top shelves, said Bonnie Harvey, manager of the shoe department.

ServPro, a cleaning company, was hired to clean out the basement and help remove the damaged merchandise, she said.

The store's owner, Stan "Pal" Borofsky, said more than 50 percent of the store's stock was ruined as the warehouse in the Church Building was also severely flooded.

"Crews have been bulldozing 18 inches of mud from the warehouse," he said.

Borofsky said the damages alone were going to cost $500,000 and the cleaning costs more than $50,000.

He added that about 5,000 pairs of shoes, work boots, sneakers and snow boots, along with winter merchandise recovered from the flooding, will be on sale within the next few weeks after the items return from a special cleaning company.

"Like everything else, we'll live through it and just hope it never happens again," Harvey said.

Sanel Auto Parts manager, Joel Fedchenko, said his store and its inventory were as damaged as others because the foundation was set higher off the ground.

"Everybody got hit really hard and I was expecting to see massive damage after watching the videos of the Whetstone on YouTube," he said.

There were some soaked cardboard boxes that held plastic containers of oil and an inch or so of mud along the floor.

"It's a minor inconvenience," Fedchenko said. "It could have been so much worse, so we're thankful."

He added employees had said they're planning on helping out adjacent businesses with their clean up.

Chris McInerney, co-owner of the Flat Street Pub, said he isn't sure yet what can be salvaged but he remains optimistic that they'll be able to open the top portion of the restaurant in a couple of weeks.

"We're not sure if the beer lines have been compromised," McInerney said. "There was six feet of water that came in from the Whetstone. The electrical in the building has been condemned so it'll take a while to get that fixed."

Past and present employees and customers have shown up each day to help with the clean-up and McInerney said he didn't have words to describe their generosity.

"We haven't even had to ask for help because so many people have shown up to come to our aid," he said.

Josh Stilts can be reached at, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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