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'We feel forgotten': Vermont flood victims navigate lengthy recovery

One resident told Scripps News her home needs $200,000 in repairs but insurance will only cover a portion, leaving her feeling hopeless.
'We feel forgotten': Vermont flood victims navigate lengthy recovery
Posted at 1:47 PM, Aug 28, 2023

Amy Roger sits on the cement front steps of her Barre, Vermont, home with a headset over her ears and a laptop across her legs. 

Since catastrophic flooding nearly destroyed her home in July, this is the only place where Roger gets enough cell signal to work her full-time remote job at a nearby college. The inside of her home was filled with nearly seven feet of water when a nearby creek overflowed its banks.

"The walls, the floors, it's all been torn out," Roger said while looking around at her living room and kitchen.

The uncertainty of the last month and a half has left the 43-year-old retired Marine exhausted.

"It's overwhelming, it's incredibly hard to focus," she said. "I went through basic training, I can deal with stress but this is terrible. It's constant. I'm trying to do what I can do, which isn't anything very well."

SEE MORE: Vermont residents survey flood damage, brace for more rain

There has been no shortage of natural disasters in the U.S. this summer. In Vermont, they are learning just how long it can take to get FEMA money and insurance money now that flood waters have subsided.

Amy Roger's home needs at least $200,000 in repairs. Her boiler, hot water heater and electrical panel need to be moved to the first floor from the basement to comply with new flood codes. 

Insurance will cover $150,000 in home repairs. Roger was initially approved for a $25,000 loan from the Small Business Administration, but that was recently rescinded after the agency found out she has homeowner's insurance. 

Aside from the $50,000 gap in coverage that she's facing, Roger is receiving no money to replace the contents of her home. Nearly everything was destroyed by the floods.

"I'm doing what I can on my own to make repairs," Roger said. "I'm hoping I can afford to keep it when it's all said and done. I don't know what the flood insurance is going to cost now. It's hard when you're living out of your trunk."

It's a much taller order of business for Raul Fernandez. As the owner of Rabble Rouser Coffee in Montpelier, he has 12 employees depending on him to reopen.

"A lot of businesses are not going to reopen," Fernandez said, looking around at the fans running inside of his coffee shop to help push out moisture.

SEE MORE: Vermont farmers reeling after widespread flooding ruined crops

In Vermont's capital, nearly one hundred businesses suffered flood damage on July 10. More than a month later, dozens remain closed. Many business owners told Scripps News they aren't eligible for FEMA funds and are worried about taking out loans from the Small Business Administration because interest rates are so high.

"We need money to buy equipment again. Like every business around here, that's really what we need," Fernandez explained.

A month and a half later, the cameras have mostly turned away. But Marek Zajac and Charlie Watts are still here. They work for the Parks and Trees Department and have been stationed on a Montpelier street corner every day since July 10, helping connect flood victims with resources.

"People are wondering if they can even afford to rebuild and stay. We are trying to lessen that burden as much as possible," Zajac said.

Across the most rural state in the country, bridges and roads are still in need of repair. In Cabot, Vermont, where the town's main general store was nearly washed away, Select Board Chairman Michael Hogan isn't worried as much about roads here as about public safety.

Cabot's only fire station was deemed uninhabitable following the floods. For now, this town of 1,700 has fire equipment situated in various spots while they await word to see if FEMA will provide funding to make repairs.

"We've told people response times could be longer. We're still getting numbers in, still fixing things," Hogan told Scripps News.

Back in Barre, Vermont, Amy Rogers spends her lunch and dinner breaks making what repairs she can to her home as she waits for insurance money to come through. The 12-18 hours days she's working have taken their toll on her mind and body.

"It all just feels very chaotic," she said.

The road ahead for this state will be a long one, but much like the mountains here, Vermonters are still standing strong.

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