Valley towns start on slow road to recovery
GRANVILLE/HANCOCK — Three weeks after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene cut off road access, phone lines and electricity service to the White River Valley, the two easternmost towns in Addison County are marking small improvements in the valley each day.
As residents of Granville and Hancock begin to tabulate damage, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are fanning out across the county and working with homeowners, town officials and business owners to help them apply for disaster assistance.
By the end of last Thursday, 124 Addison County residents — many of them from Granville and Hancock — had registered for FEMA disaster assistance, and FEMA had approved $310,896 in individual and household grants to people in the county.
The number is small compared to the statewide figures — 4,773 Vermonters have registered for assistance, and FEMA has approved $11.2 million in disaster assistance.
Countywide, the towns in the valley were the hardest hit.
Last week, Judy Olsen and Cheryl Sargeant, chairs of the Hancock and Granville selectboards, respectively, said there are a number of residents who still couldn’t get in their homes.
“We still have about seven houses that are uninhabitable,” said Sargeant.
Especially for those whose houses were damaged in the floodwaters, a full recovery is still a long way off.
But Olsen said early last week that while there is still a long way to go, slowly and surely the town is entering a new phase.
The town closed down its emergency supply station a few days after power and phone service was restored to the town, returning the fire station and generator to the fire department. Residents have filled five Dumpsters donated by Casella Waste Systems with debris from the storm. Olsen said Hancock, as a whole, is nearing the end of the cleanup phase.
“It seems to be winding down,” she said.
While work is still under way on many of the roads in and out of the valley, Granville and Hancock residents can now reliably reach nearby business and population centers Rochester, Bethel, Middlebury and points north.
Olsen, director of the Quin-Town Senior Citizens Center, was able on Sept. 9 to reopen the center to anyone in the valley who could get to Hancock.
“We’re holding our own here,” she said.
Last Wednesday, FEMA community response teams assigned to Addison County were still working their way through affected areas in the valley, conducting door-to-door visits to ensure that residents were fully aware of their funding options.
James Pender and Joe Phillips are two of some 100 FEMA employees working in the state, and they make up one of three teams assigned to Addison County. The two men have been on the ground since just a few days after the Aug. 28 storm hit, and last Wednesday, they greeted people in Rochester by name. The two began working in Rochester as well as Granville and Hancock after FEMA teams from Windsor County were unable to reach the town.
Though several weeks out from the disaster, FEMA was maintaining a presence on the ground to help those still reeling from the flooding. The team was also reaching out to families whose houses were destroyed, searching for out-of-town phone numbers and contacts to make sure the families knew where and how to apply for federal assistance.
“Oftentimes people are in such shock, they don’t know what they’re going to do,” said Carl Sherrill, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Small Business administration.
The SBA takes over where FEMA’s grants leave off, working to make sure not just businesses, but also households and individuals can get long-term, low-interest loans to help with the recovery process.
“We help them get to where they were the day before the disaster,” said Sherrill.
In the coming weeks, the Addison County FEMA teams will be branching out into other areas of the county, passing information along to town clerks, churches and stores in towns that weren’t as hard-hit by the storms. On Wednesday, however, Pender, Phillips and a number of other officials were still in the valley. The group stopped by the Rochester Town Office, making sure that town residents had the resources they needed in order to register for assistance.
Larry Straus, chair of the Rochester selectboard, told them that most people in town were aware of their options for disaster funding at this point, but that the task now will be getting people to file paperwork. He said town officials are doing what they could to encourage everyone to register and apply for all possible relief opportunities.
Straus said his focus has shifted to infrastructure at this point — many are still having trouble traveling and commuting to work.
“We’re doing what we have to do, FEMA or no FEMA, disaster or no disaster. We’ve got to make our roads safe,” he said.
And in that respect, he said, the town was taking matters into its own hands.
“We’re not waiting for the cavalry here,” he said.
Phillips said in that respect, Vermont has impressed him.
“Vermonters are resilient,” he said.
Still, towns are facing some hard choices as winter draws near.
In Granville, Sargeant said Buffalo Farm Road is still closed because the town has not yet found funds to address the washout.
“It’s going to be well over a million dollars to fix it,” she said. “That’s way over what our capacity is at this point.”
Anyone hoping to apply for individual federal assistance can call the toll-free FEMA customer service line at 1-800-621-3362.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.