Dell's Original Uncoverage Logo by Antonio F. Branco, Comically Incorrect

Monday, October 31, 2011

“I Am Vermont Strong” - Personified

“I Am Vermont Strong” - Personified

How Just One Vermont Family - Who Lost Everything Except Their Spirit - Exemplifies The Strength and Unity Of “Vermont Strong”

By Dell Hill

I’ve written of the devastation that impacted Vermont during the onslaught of Tropical Storm Irene, but the story doesn’t end there...that, in fact, was just the beginning of an even bigger story.  It’s the story of how hundreds of Vermont families have united to overcome the adversity of losing everything to a natural disaster.  This is my niece's story, but it’s the very same for many others.

After the storm and when it was safe to do so, I travelled to nearby Waterbury, Vermont to offer whatever assistance I might be able to provide to my niece and her family following the flooding from Irene.  About all I could do was offer my shoulder for her to cry on, and my arms to hug her.  

She was in a state of shock as she rattled off a long list of personal possessions, including all of her family heirlooms, photos, and the things that provided wonderful memories.  The pictures of her two children, her parents, grandparents, and yes, even her favorite uncle, were all gone.  Everything washed away in just a matter of minutes, leaving her entire family almost catatonic.

I let her release the pent-up emotions for quite some time before saying a word.

As I looked around, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I had been to her home many times over the years and was very familiar with the “lay of the land” and all of the improvements they had made - such as the nice deck in the rear of the house that led directly to the side of an above-ground swimming pool that the kids enjoyed for hours on end.  Somehow, the deck was still there (a tribute to its builder), but the pool was nowhere to be seen and neither was the four bedroom home that sat next to it!  The exterior shell was all that was left.  The contents were gone; washed away in the flood waters that reached to within a foot of the ceilings.  The two-car garage was still in place...complete with a high-water mark very close to the top of the windows.  It somehow stayed on its foundation.

As you could well imagine, the area was a total mess.  Tons of silt from the nearby Winooski River had settled in large mounds around the property and what can only be described as garbage was everywhere.

My niece was angry, sad, in shock, confused and devastated - all at the same time.

But, almost from the beginning I sensed her determination to recover.  She was already making diary entries of all of her contacts, including FEMA, because she didn’t have flood insurance.  She was doing all of the right things, documenting every phone call and personal visit from insurance company and FEMA representatives, as well as local government and aid agencies.  Being a stickler for documentation, this pleased me.  

Over the course of the next several weeks she suffered the ups and downs of her recovery efforts - all to be expected.  Her car was destroyed, but FEMA wouldn’t allow her anything for it because they said it was too old.  That, of course, did nothing to help her get back and forth to the two jobs she held down.  Her total FEMA grant came through at less than she had hoped for, but it was enough to start planning and buying the necessary materials and labor to start over.  

And start over she did.

After the entire area was cleaned up and the remnants of her former home burned (it was that far gone!), the process of recovery shifted gears.

37 loads of sand and gravel were hauled in to raise the level of her new home and provide the necessary base for a new foundation.

The camper beside the garage provides a temporary “home” while the work goes on.

Rather than pay $7,000 for excavation equipment and labor to build a new foundation, they HAND SHOVELED and raked the site in preparation for concrete.

Having a great sense of humor runs in the family.  My niece asked me “Do you know how many butt muscles it takes to dig that by hand?”  She instantly answered her own question - “ALL OF ‘EM!”

Using strong backs and determination that’s difficult to describe, the new foundation has been poured.

Crews then began building the exterior framing (2 x 6 studs to withstand tons of Vermont snow and ice).

Home builders with decades of experience pitch in to frame the exterior walls.

From the driveway, which was under six feet of water, you can see the exterior walls starting to reflect the new home.

Yup!  It sure looks like a new home to me!!

The walls are all up now...and the rafters are in place.  Shingles will go on very soon.

Once it’s closed in, the doors and windows will be installed and the project will be completed over the winter -- inside, where it will be toasty warm from the brand new radiation heating system that’s waiting its turn for installation.

Unfortunately, appliances and furniture cost a lot of money.  Far more than the amount FEMA granted, so it will take “a while” to come up with the funds for those necessary household items, but this is a start.  No, it’s more than a “start”’s a Helluva Start by just one more family that is “Vermont Strong”.


  1. takes the favor of God and faith in Him to pick up and start again with nothing. This lady is a testamony to her family and others around her - Vermont Strong? Yup with roots that go all the way back to The Green Mountain boys - it will take something more than Irene to stop this kind of determination. Bravo!!!!