Went to Vermont for a long weekend — just one week after Hurricane Irene. If you ever want to spend some wonderful days on a motorcycle, Vermont is a great place to go because the land is so unusual: a forever-series of great rounded heights followed by low, river-spun valleys to glide along. But beyond the ordinary extraordinary-ness of Vermont, we were amazed by what we saw.
Like a hurricane
Irene was no longer technically a hurricane when it hit Vermont, but you wouldn’t know that looking at the aftermath. We saw towns with water marks two feet up the sides of buildings all the way down Main Street. We saw bridges so washed out that the earth below the deepest footing was gone and the bridge hung in mid-air, twisted like rope candy, like a Twizzler. We saw people selling muddy furniture in their front yards — people who looked very, very tired.
Vermont is mostly a series of vertical peaks and drops, with brooks that are barely rivers that crawl between the steep slopes of wooded mountains, the water pushing itself either east towards the Connecticut River or west to the top of the Hudson.
When it rains in this landscape, all rainwater rolls directly down the inevitable, often vertical, flanks of mountain and drops into those thin, vegan rivers.
As above, so below
The more water above, the more water below, it’s a direct equation. The only variables have to do with how wet the ground is when the rain comes. And this year — the year of Irene — the ground was already saturated from a few wet weeks preceding. That variable increases the probability of flooding.
Almost a foot of rain fell from the sky in one day in parts of Vermont; the other parts got a half-foot. Together across acreage, that’s many feet, that’s actually a lake. The lake slid down mountainsides and into slender streams that swelled and surged into small towns that appear in Vermont in the only place they can: at the base of the steep slopes, next to the rivers.
As for us, we drifted in on motorcycles not as inquisitive storm chasers but because we’d planned the getaway months in advance. We became witnesses of the storm’s effects by happening to be there. We witnessed the water. We witnessed the damage. We ate in restaurants with people who were kind even though their eyes were pale because they had just lost everything: entire organic farms, homes, barns, ski lodges… a way of life… a retirement… an idea about how life is or should be….
On the journey home we got tangled up in road closures and detours and impassible routes — a 3 hour ride took 8 hours. We would dismount and witness one wash-out after another, get back on our bikes, turn around, and head back the way we came. Our inconvenience so tiny compared to theirs.
Our salute is to perhaps write a little bit about it later.
FEMA: “it’s your money, take it”
For days after we returned home to safety in eastern New Hampshire, the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA was still setting up relief shelters in the area of Vermont we’d just navigated. Berkshires, Bennington, Barre. We had just seen it, we were glad to see FEMA arriving to help.
As such, we thought we’d run this information about what it takes to qualify for FEMA aid. Some of this surprised us, it may surprise you too. It turns out that some Vermonters who were affected by Tropical Storm Irene may have not registered with FEMA for assistance — because of misconceptions or lack of accurate information.
Here are ten myths around whether or not you qualify for FEMA aid.
Top ten myths and facts about qualifying for FEMA aid
MYTH 1: I thought my income was too high for me to qualify.
FACT: There is no income cutoff for FEMA aid. Anyone with disaster damage or loss in the declared counties may be eligible for help. FEMA grants may cover under insured or uninsured losses.
MYTH 2: My insurance agent told me I wouldn’t be able to get help from FEMA because I have flood insurance.
FACT: Everyone with flood insurance should register. FEMA may be able to help with uninsured costs.
MYTH 3: I don’t want FEMA assistance because it will affect my Social Security benefits, taxes, food stamps or Medicaid.
FACT: FEMA assistance does not affect benefits from other federal programs and it is not reportable as taxable income.
MYTH 4: I’ve already cleaned up and made the repairs. Isn’t it too late?
FACT: You may be eligible for reimbursement of your clean up and repair expenses.
MYTH 5: I thought FEMA only gave loans. I don’t want a loan.
FACT: FEMA only provides grants that do not have to be repaid. FEMA’s individual assistance program covers expenses for temporary housing, home repairs, replacement of damaged personal property and other disaster-related needs, such as medical, dental or transportation costs not covered by insurance or other programs.
The U.S. Small Business Administration provides low-interest loans to renters, homeowners and businesses of all sizes. Some applicants may receive an SBA loan application after registering with FEMA. No one is obligated to take out a loan. But if they don’t complete the application, they may not be considered for other federal grants.
MYTH 6: I’m a renter. I thought FEMA aid was only for homeowners to repair their homes.
FACT: FEMA may provide grants to help renters who lost personal property or were displaced.
MYTH 7: I heard there’s too much red tape and paperwork to register.
FACT: There is no paperwork to register with FEMA. You can do it with one phone call that takes a short while, by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362). Those with a speech disability or hearing loss who use a TTY can call 800-462-7585; or 800-621-3362 if using 711 or Video Relay Service. You can also register online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or via a web-enabled mobile device at m.fema.gov. The website helps reduce the number of forms to be filled out and shortens the time it takes to apply.
MYTH 8: I received disaster assistance last year. I thought I couldn’t get it again this year.
FACT: If you had damage from another federally declared disaster you may register for new assistance.
MYTH 9: Isn’t FEMA broke? Other people need the help more than I do.
FACT: FEMA has enough funding to assist all eligible survivors with immediate needs. You will not be taking from others if you register for aid yourself.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 800-462-7585; or call 800-621-3362 if using 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS).
FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, applicants who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to SBA loan officers to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.
SBA disaster loan information and application forms may be obtained by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for people with speech or hearing disabilities) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications can also be downloaded from http://www.sba.gov or completed on-line at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.
FEMA’ mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
MYTH 10: No one cares, Vermonters have to do it themselves, there is no help.
FACT: There is help, the rest of us do care. There is unemployment compensation, there are shelters and provisions, there is money. Take the money!!
Good luck with the recovery effort, Vermont. We know you can do it.
photo credits: images by kmhurley at http: //www.kmhurley.com