How one Barre, Vermont neighborhood is trying to clean up after chest-deep floodwaters
A tiny residential side street in Barre that has one of the lowest elevations in the city’s downtown has suffered some of the most severe flood damage in central Vermont.
Rick Rich began his flood response in volunteer-mode, when he found out a nearby friend had water pouring into their basement.
“So we headed up to help them, and then by the time we got down here, we couldn’t leave,” Rich said Thursday. “We’d made it in. We’d gotten a couple vehicles out. But after that, we were trapped here.”
Trapped in the two-story home on Second Street that Rich has lived in for 30 years. He left his house in chest-deep water on Monday evening to try to find help, and soon ran into some rescue workers who followed him back to his home to evacuate his family.
“It was pretty scary. I mean, you know, we had four kids in the house, plus our two dogs,” Rich said. “The dogs had harnesses, they were dragging them through the water.”
“We’re hoping and praying that FEMA will come by and help us out. The last time and a half that it flooded, we’ve always taken care of ourselves. We never asked insurance to cover us for nothing. We just did all the work ourselves and went on with our days. This time I think we need help.”Rick Rich, Barre City resident
On Thursday afternoon, a little more than 24 hours into the cleanup, Rich was covered in a thin film of muck from his feet to his chest. He has no idea whether his house has suffered irreparable damage.
“We’re hoping and praying that FEMA will come by and help us out,” he said. “The last time and a half that it flooded, we’ve always taken care of ourselves. We never asked insurance to cover us for nothing. We just did all the work ourselves and went on with our days. This time I think we need help.”
Second Street is a densely-developed side street off Barre City’s main drag that has 14 similar-looking houses packed into less than a tenth of a mile. All suffered varying degrees of devastation Monday and Tuesday, none worse than the dark blue house that Wendy Sullivan has rented for the past five years.
“It’s absolutely crazy,” she said Thursday. “I mean, everything’s chaos.”
Sullivan tried to salvage her belongings after her 27-year-old daughter found 3 inches of water in their basement.
“And so we both went down there and started bringing up stuff, and we got up very little before the storm door over here busted and just completely flooded,” she said.
Sullivan cares for her daughter, who has autism, and also has a disability herself. She relies on a Section 8 voucher to subsidize her rental costs. And her lone source of income was destroyed in the flood.
“I’m a woodworker, so all my wood’s gone, most of my tools,” Sullivan said. “We saved some of my hand tools for my lathe, and the rest is gone.”
Sullivan has found very temporary living arrangements with a friend, but she can’t stay long. And if she’s unable to find another unit to rent soon, she said she’s afraid she’ll lose her Section 8 voucher.
Federal rules give Section 8 beneficiaries 60 days to secure housing before they lose their voucher, though people can file for extensions.
“I only have a certain amount of time before I have to find a place, or I lose it,” she said.
Mike Dutil has lived on Second Street for 30 years, though his house is a few feet higher in elevation than Rich's and Sullivan’s. Dutil said the bones on his home look fine. But getting the place back to normal has been an exercise in futility.
He’s been trying to pump water out of his basement since waters receded Wednesday evening.
“We just went downstairs, and you can hear water coming in the foundation still, because the ground is so saturated,” he said.
Getting his house dry isn’t the only thing on Dutil’s mind.
“I work in at a granite shed over here across the river, and it’s in the same boat. It’s turned upside down,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
For Rick Rich, the hardest part hasn’t been pumping the basement or schlepping belongings out of the house. It’s having to look at everything once it’s sitting outside:
“And all the material things that you had in your life in the basements or in the houses, depending on how low you were in this area, it’s all laying down on the ground and packed full of mud," he said.
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Flooding recovery assistance and other key resources
- To apply for federal financial assistance, visit disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.
- Is your community under a boil-water notice? Find a statewide list here.
- For state road closure information, visit newengland511.org or @511VT on Twitter. To check the status of your town's local roads, consult your town website or social media.
- School activities and child care program closures are collected here.
- Find the latest forecasts and water levels for specific rivers from the National Weather Service.
- Are you returning to flooded property? Get tips on what to expect and how to stay safe while cleaning your home or car and how to deal with trash and debris.
- Here are tips for avoiding scams that can crop up after a disaster.
- Flood safety tips have been translated into 16 languages here.
- The Vermont Professionals of Color Network is connecting BIPOC Vermonters with recovery assistance.
- Business owners can find tips and resources from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
- To find more resources, visit vermont.gov/flood, vermont211.org or call Vermont 2-1-1.
- You can also report flood damage to 2-1-1 to help the state gather data, according to Vermont Emergency Management. (If you are a homeowner, you should also contact your insurance company.)
- The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has provided a resource page for farmers.
- Find the latest guidance about how to help with recovery.