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FEMA hits the ground running in Brattleboro

Disaster center opens at Living Memorial Park, residents urged to apply for aid

BRATTLEBORO—The recovery from the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28 has entered a new stage, now that representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have arrived in town.

FEMA set up an official Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) on Sunday at the Withington Rink at Living Memorial Park. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily for as long as necessary.

The federal agency will also establish a regional DRC in Dover, with the location and hours to be determined.

Speaking at a informational meeting on Tuesday, Denise Worhach, a FEMA public information officer, told a group of about 35 residents and business owners that her agency’s main focus was “to get help for people as quickly as possible, and I think we’re doing that.”

The DRC will help people register for disaster assistance. If flood victims have not done so already, Worhach said, they should compile documentation and contact their insurance agents to report damage.

There are 33 inspectors in the field right now, she said, and they have conducted 750 inspections as of Tuesday. The average wait after contacting FEMA is about a day, and Worhach said that more inspectors will come to the region if needed.

Inspectors are assessing flood damage and relaying information to FEMA, which then decides how much aid will be paid, she said.

FEMA has provided $4.3 million in disaster assistance so far, she said, and more money is on the way. She explained that FEMA will cover repair or replacement costs for anything that is not covered by private insurance.

“Register with FEMA, even if you have insurance,” she said. Residents can register by visting the agency’s website.

Garth McDonald, a public information officer with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Disaster Assistance, said his agency is working in tandem with FEMA. The main difference is that FEMA handles short-term needs, while the SBA deals with long-term recovery.

There’s plenty of money available to help small businesses with flood cleanup, McDonald said, but he has learned that Vermonters usually say, “We’re okay, we’re all right” and are hesitant to accept outside help.

“You’re not taking money from the people in Joplin [Missouri] or Tuscaloosa [Alabama],” said McDonald, referring to towns in the Midwest and South that were hit by floods and tornados, respectively, earlier this year.

“Fill out the paperwork now; you can always say no later,” he advised.

McDonald said he spent most of the spring and summer dealing with aftermath of the Missouri River flood. “This has been the year of the 500-year flood,” he said.

Besides offering information on how to apply for FEMA and SBA funds, the meeting also provided information on how residents can apply for tax abatements.

Town Clerk Annette Cappy said that there are few occasions where a tax abatement is granted, and property lost or destroyed in a disaster is one of them.

Cappy said property owners should contact her office to fill out an application. The Board for the Abatement of Taxes — which consists of 15 Justices of the Peace, the Selectboard, three members of the Board of Listers, the Town Treasurer, and the Town Clerk — will hold hearings on the abatements by mid-October, ahead of the next quarterly installment of town property taxes in November.

Decisions of the board are final and cannot be appealed, Cappy said.

Recovery moves ahead

Town Manager Barbara Sondag said that local social service agencies, with the United Way of Windham County taking the lead, are busy coordinating the swarm of volunteers who have come to hard-hit sites around town to help with cleanup.

The town has received many donations of cleaning supplies, she said. Residents can pick them up at either of the town’s fire stations on Elliot Street or Western Avenue.

Sondag said the town is out of weather alert radios, but more are coming soon.

Triple-T Trucking, which handles waste disposal for the town, has put out Dumpsters in hard-hit areas and increased trash pickups to deal with all the debris and demolition waste from the storm.

Most all of the roads in town are now open, but many are strictly for local use only. Ames Hill and Hamilton roads, which are being used as bypasses around flood-damaged Route 9, required a lot of work to make them passable, said Sondag.

“But don’t drive on them if you don’t have to,” she added.

Work continues on a temporary bridge for Cooke Road, but Williams Street will remain closed indefinitely. Sondag said a damaged bridge there will need replacement, and the town has elected to build a new bridge rather than use a temporary one.

Flat Street is still closed to traffic, Sondag said, to allow businesses unimpediated access for clean-up efforts.

Some of the businesses that were hardest hit by flooding are slowly reopening.

Experienced Goods, the thrift shop run by Brattleboro Area Hospice, shop remains closed but its sister-store on Elliot St is open.

The Latchis Theatre and Hotel hopes to reopen by Friday, Sept. 9.

The Boys & Girls Club on Flat Street is expected to reopen on Sept. 12, and volunteers are still needed for cleanup.

The Flat Street Pub hopes to reopen by mid-September. Adivasi is still cleaning up.

The Red Cross is still operating a shelter at the Gibson-Aiken Center on Main Street.

Marlboro College and the United Way of Windham County have launched a website to serve as a “one-stop shop” for information regarding the flood. It contains information on upcoming meetings, regional road conditions, volunteer and donation opportunities, FEMA news, cleanup advice and more.

Sondag also had high praise for FEMA.

“They got here on Saturday, and they’ve been fantastic to work with,” she said. “We’re still trying to get up to speed on the FEMA stuff we need to know, so I would suggest that residents please contact FEMA with any questions while they’re here.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #117 (Wednesday, September 7, 2011).

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