The forgotten in West Brattleboro

Friday September 2, 2011

WEST BRATTLEBORO -- While hundreds of volunteers have offered their assistance to various businesses and home owners, the residents of Glen Court say they feel abandoned and forgotten.

Furniture, appliances, tools and family antiques, ruined by Sunday's historic flooding of the Whetstone Brook caused by Tropical Storm Irene, were laid out in the street but most people's belongings were still inside their trailers.

"What am I paying taxes for?" Paul, a resident asked.

Mud and water came within less than an inch of breaching his living room of the home he shares with his girlfriend Phyllis Haskell.

Their shed, which housed $1,000 worth of tools, a lawn mower, snow blower and wood cutter was crushed, the sheet metal twisted and battered, leaving his equipment scattered, broken and ruined.

"No one has come to help us," he said. "When I called the Red Cross all they said was there was hot meals available and hung up. I understand we aren't the only ones hit by the storm but no one's offered any assistance to us. We can't do this by ourselves."

Haskell, 79, said that she and Paul haven't been able to find another place to live because nearly all of the affordable housing was taken following the Brooks House fire in April.

"We can't afford what's out there," Haskell said.

Paul said it'll cost at least $1,500 just to get into a place, something they can't afford living on Social Security.

"We're going to be sleeping on a porch at Phyllis' daughters house," he said. "But that might not be for another week yet."

Until they can move their belongings that weren't damaged, including the new chair and sofa they purchased just two weeks ago, Paul and Phyllis have decided they'll have to stay in their mobile home, even though it's been condemned by the state.

As the contaminated water and mud begins to dry, there is growing concern that the dust being created could cause serious health risks, Phyllis said.

"I've had a hard time breathing and the smell is getting worse," she said. "I've got to get out of here soon."

For now the couple is running a gas-powered generator that was loaned to them to keep the refrigerator running a few hours a day and to have a small lamp available until they go to bed at night.

The fuel is costing them $20 a day and Paul said they only have enough money to keep it running for another two days.

Rose Calderon, who lives on the southern side of the park, said the elderly community doesn't know where to go, what to do or who to turn to.

"I've been crying my eyes out for days," she said.

Most of the people who live in Glen Park aren't strong enough to move heavy furniture or even boxes of personal items, she said.

All of the trailers closest to the river have been condemned, nearly 16. Underneath each, water surged destroying electrical panels and pluming, leaving little more than the concrete cinder blocks used to keep the structures off the ground, including the trailer owned by Emery Felch, Jr.

Felch, Jr., 79, said he purchased his trailer in 1996 and remembers a previous flood about seven years ago that nearly soaked his home.

He left just before 8 a.m. Sunday because of the threat of the flash flood and when he returned the next day he saw feet of mud slopped in his entry way. But when he walked into the living room, the floor was dry.

"I thought I had adverted another disaster," he said. "I walked in the front door and the carpet was dry so I took off my shoes so I wouldn't track the mud into the house. But when I went a couple steps down the hall my socks were soaked."

The water level in his bedroom and office was more than a foot high, but luckily his extensive toy car collection wasn't damaged.

He said he was lucky because his sister and his nephew have offered to help move his possessions and store what can be salvaged.

"Without my family I don't know what I'd do," Felch, Jr., said.

He, too, is looking outside of Brattleboro for housing because he cannot afford the high cost of rents.

"The one place I could afford wasn't bigger than my bedroom is now," he said. "I'd go crazy in there."

Across the Whetstone Brook at Melrose Terrace, the devastation was equally horrible -- homes flooded with nearly a foot of mud, pathways warped and pieces of black top shifted, cars floated hundreds of yards away from where they were parked.

Lucy Tell, coordinator for the Brattleboro Housing Authority, said they've been lucky as nearly a hundred volunteers from various churches have shown up to help clean up.

"Some of the places were pretty well trashed," Tell said. "Others appear OK, but we're finding water has seeped in creating a mold problem."

Only half of the 80 residents have been able to return to their homes, she said.

"The buildings need a lot of work," Tell said. "We can't have people come back until we get the all-clear from the fire department."

After learning that no one had come to the aid of the people in Glen Park, she said they're going to do whatever they can to help, but more volunteers are needed.

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


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