Everything “is completely gone,” said Gary Russell.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, his family’s business, Vermont RV Sales & Service in Brattleboro, was submerged after the Whetstone Brook swelled and engulfed his property, carrying campers to a neighboring cleaning business and ramming service vans parked there.
Russell and the owner of the cleaning company were in the standing-room-only crowd at a community meeting at the town hall Monday (Aug. 29). The emergency gathering was called by local officials to try to calm the community of roughly 12,000, perched on the Connecticut River, at the mouth of the West River.
Floods spared some neighborhoods, including the historic downtown, while devastating others. The waters whipped up by Hurricane Irene came so fast that a local swift-water rescue team had to save 30 people.
“All hell broke loose,” Town Manager Barbara Sondag told the crowd.
Russell clutched a notebook of questions. “I want to find out if there is some federal help, FEMA or something,” he said. “We had no flood insurance; we never expected something like this to happen.”
“I thought I did but I don’t,” muttered Alan Washburn, the owner of a local sprinkler company. Like many others, he still wore rain boots and jeans caked with mud from the day’s work. Floodwaters filled the basement of his company, ruining $20,000 worth of power tools.
The Wall Street Journal reported that residents commended town officials for quickly calling a meeting. Many clapped as Sondag described the local rescue operation. But it was clear that financial recovery won’t be so easy. Sondag said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had authorized funds for Vermont. But, she said, “at this time we do not have instructions on how to apply. We were hoping to have someone from FEMA down here today. They are in the state but they are not down here yet.”
Russell said he had been fending for himself, with the help of friends and family. He recalled how he and his 87-year-old father were in the back yard of the business, checking on campers and equipment, when suddenly they were surrounded by water. The two men escaped by jumping on a tractor, the older man driving and Russell holding his silver poodle, Buddy.
“We rescued ourselves,” he said, preparing to do so again in the weeks ahead.