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Monday, November 7, 2011

Mobile Home Residents Try to Recover from Flood

On the afternoon of Aug. 28, the water rose so quickly that hundreds of residents were forced to abandon their homes and move to higher ground. When they returned, they found that the water had filled their basements and submerged their first floors. The floodwaters had overturned barrels of heating oil stored in the basements of homes and office buildings, turning neighborhoods into hazmat zones and permeating the air with oily fumes.

Some 200 homes in Waterbury were severely damaged or destroyed, representing nearly a third of all the Vermont homes damaged by Irene-related flooding

Today, the toxic smell is gone and most of the Dumpsters that lined the streets in the days after the flood have been replaced by contractors' trucks. Displaced homeowners are eager to rebuild, but the town's recovery faces significant challenges. Private insurance policies don't cover flood damage, and because floods here are rare — the last major flood was in 1927 — few homeowners and businesses had federal flood insurance. Only 71 policies were in effect in the village at the end of August, according to federal data. For all of Vermont, 3,665 flood insurance policies were in force when Irene hit.

Steve and Amy Odefey are among the fortunate. Even though the family has never had so much as a wet basement in their 100-year-old house on Randall Street, they had flood insurance. "I'll be a lot happier writing the premium check now," Steve Odefey says.

Still, the Odefeys' insurance won't cover the loss of their personal property, nor will it cover the entire cost of repairs. For example, insurance will pay only to replace the portion of their first-floor walls that got wet, even though, as a practical matter, they'll need to replace the walls all the way to the ceiling, Odefey says. No contractor wants to match new drywall on the bottom half with the undamaged plaster-over-lath portion of the walls, he says.

After the waters ebbed, damaged roads and bridges were rebuilt fairly quickly. Rebuilding homes is taking much longer because homeowners must navigate a complex maze of state, federal and personal resources, says Chris Nordle, an attorney and member of ReBuild Waterbury, a non-profit formed to organize volunteers and raise funds for recovery efforts.

"When you're talking about 200 homeowners in a village of a couple thousand, you've got 200 little mini disaster-management programs going on," he says. "That's one of the things I have a hard time getting my head around."

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