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Sun September 18, 2011
Initial Shock Of Irene Is Waning, But Emotions Still Raw In Vermont
About three weeks after Irene hit people in some areas of Vermont have been living without phone service, impassable roads and a scarred landscape. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen reports some Vermont residents are worn out physically and emotionally.
The Rock River in South Newfane flows through the back yard of Maureen Albert-Piascik. She says when Irene hit the river started to crest and she evacuated.
"it just went up so fast. The river was just so high the next thing I knew my house was surrounded by water."
Her house survived. But a neighbors ranch slipped into the river. All that’s left of it is a railing. Albert-Piascik says she feels guilty for complaining, but her back yard is washed away, she can smell mold coming from her basement, she lost her furnace and has no hot water.
"it has been devastating. I mean, I cry every day , but I do feel better when I see how much work they’ve done on the roads and the river, but just thinking about my own property its hard."
Albert-Piascik serves as the Treasurer of Newfane. She and her colleagues are not only dealing with their own losses, but those faced by the town.
Administrative Assistant Shannon Meckle is in charge of calculating how much is being spent to repair roads in Newfane so some of it will be paid for by FEMA.
"How many loads of gravel, how many culverts were put back in. Some of that will be reimbursable, but they make us keep very careful track.”
Since the storm hit Meckle’s been putting in extra hours . And at home the roads are so bad it takes so long to drive her daughter to the school carpool, the thirteen-year-old girl is staying with her Dad, 45 minutes away.
"I just miss her terribly. And she misses me. She would also watch my younger boys after school. They miss her and she’s having a hard time as well."
Meckle’s husband, a truck driver, is gone 6 days a week. She used to call him every night. But now her phone doesn’t work.
"I took for granted that I could just pick up the phone and say ‘we miss you!’ And now I can’t do that. Our children can’t say goodnight to their Dad without us having to get in a car and drive somewhere to do that. And that was our way of staying very connected and that’s gone."
She can’t call her father either, a recent widower.
Some people say it's hard even to ask for help. So they don’t.
Peggy Tiffany, a business consultant from Marlboro, goes to the Wiliamsville Grange to get access to the Internet. And until now she’s had to bicycle more than a mile to get there
“If I come to the Williamsville Grange they have internet, but I can’t use my cell phone here. So then I have to go into town to find a place where I can have both. And it’s hard to find a private place.”
Tiffany hasn’t been able to drive into her house, her trash is piling up, her propane tank is on zero, and she’s been bicycling groceries back and forth. And she doesn’t like to hear the Marlboro Branch Brook near her house anymore.
“Most of the year it was like a whispering sound, that would shush you to sleep. And now I just don’t like the sound of it.”
Tiffany says the day Irene hit huge white pines behind her house popped out of their roots, shooting into the air. Boulders churned like thunder. She wonders what will happen in the spring.
“Is the river going to come this high again? Am I going to be safe?”
Tom Fusco, the owner of Alcan Power equipment has been key to people, like Tiffany, who haven’t been able to drive.
“This has been like a Command Post because we were stranded for 10 or 12 days here. No one could get in or out. So we parked the cars here . We pick up rubbish here. We leave notices and whatever needed to be done.
Fusco’s ATVs have been ferrying people. But his business has been without a phone, internet and no trucks have been able to deliver. Outside, near the Branch Brook, Fusco predicts in the winter the roads will be rough, along with the local economy.
“We’ll just have to see how we make out. The main thing is all our friends and neighbors are OK.”
People in this area have survived, in part because they’ve been looking out for each other. But there are emotional wounds that are still raw.