In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, nine committees formed around the state to help people get back into secure housing. Today some of those Long-Term Recovery Committees are still active, helping dozens of Vermonters who need assistance. Many intend to be in place for the next disaster.
When Tropical Storm Irene struck, those who could help in the Mad River valley traveled from house to house and farm to farm to see what was needed.
Asah Rowles, who, today, is the chair of the Mad River Long Term Recovery Committee, said they also managed to get to Granville, where she was, a town cut off by the storm
“They were actually the first ones to bring us water,” recalled Rowles, “ long before the National Guard even came.”
That kind of determined group effort was a typical start for what later became the Long Term Recovery Committees.
Committee members tend to be people involved in social or community service work, religious organizations or emergency management. The committees formed partnerships with groups and businesses that can help survivors. Some committees raised their own funds.
Asah Rowles said all of them played a key role helping people navigate the different options for getting assistance.
“In the early days there were just a lot of questions,” said Rowles “‘What do I do? Am I eligible for this? Am I eligible for that?’ It was just having one point of contact to streamline all the information that was coming in.”
Today the committees connect survivors with case managers, who help them apply for grants or loans.
JoEllen Calderara, who chairs the Central Vermont Long Term Recovery Committee said it has handled as many as 250 cases at a time and today has about 40. Many of those people are waiting on a federal buy-out. Calderara said other cases, are ‘so extreme and multilayered’ it’s taking longer to resolve them. Some include the elderly and disabled who have only just come forward asking for help.
“Luckily we’re still here and that these people can still get the assistance,” said Calderara. “Because at this point there isn’t a FEMA option, there isn’t the option to go for insurance for most of them. We are their only hope.”
The Southeastern Vermont Irene Long Term Recovery Committee has whittled 1500 cases down to 30. The Chair, Sandy Daly, said the committee is trying to figure out what’s going to happen when FEMA funds run out for disaster case managers, at the end of November.
“Who is going to be able to carry the ball forward for these people? And who will be kind of ‘on-call’, if you will, for the next time that we’re needed to respond?” said Daly. “So it’s putting those pieces into place.”
Daly said formalizing what happens the next time is at the top of the agenda for these committees as they wrap up their Irene work.
“So that there is a sense of clarity,” said Daly, “rather than having to go through a learning curve all over again. That maybe we can have some kind of partnership, that’s ongoing.”
Daly’s committee and several others want to go ‘dormant’, but be ready to spring into action if there is another disaster.
For some groups the “next” disaster has already happened. Those committees, now, are helping people hit by recent spring and summer flooding.