NATIONAL NEWS

Their Vermont homes were inundated by extreme flooding. A year later, they still struggle to recover

Jul 9, 2024, 9:04 PM

Lisa Edson-Neveu, 52 poses for a portrait at her house in Montpelier, Vt., July 3, 2024 that was da...

Lisa Edson-Neveu, 52 poses for a portrait at her house in Montpelier, Vt., July 3, 2024 that was damaged by the 2023 flood. A year after catastrophic flooding inundated parts of Vermont, some homeowners are still in the throes of recovery. (AP Photo/ Dmitry Belyakov)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/ Dmitry Belyakov)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A year after catastrophic flooding inundated parts of Vermont, Lisa Edson Neveu and her two teenage sons still live in their flood-wracked home, despite unrepaired damage that festers like an open wound: torn-out walls and floors, a missing ceiling in one room and a downstairs bathroom that is no more. The family’s kitchen was destroyed so they cook meals on an outdoor grill, an electric frying pan or an air fryer.

“The flood was terrible. The water was high. It was rushing off the back hillside. It was dark, it was stormy. All of this was awful but that isn’t the part that’s been really traumatic,” said Neveu, 52. “That part everybody was amazing, neighbors helped neighbors, the community helped each other. The National Guard was incredible. What has been traumatic and just beyond anything I can even explain is how awful the last year has been.”

Since last July’s flooding that left the capital city of Montpelier under waist-high water, it’s been “a battle with insurance companies, the adjusters, the city, the state and FEMA and the federal government and nothing is in line with anything else,” Neveu said.

A year later, the family is still in limbo as the city determines which homes it can elevate — raise above the flood threat — or buy with funding allocated by the Legislature. But Neveu and her neighbor doubt the city will have enough money to do all the work and say there isn’t a solid plan a year after the flooding.

They are not alone. A number of Vermonters in Montpelier, nearby Barre and elsewhere around the state remain in the throes of the flooding aftermath, waiting to hear whether their homes will be elevated or FEMA will buy them out, a process that could take years.

In May, Vermont became the first state to enact a law requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a share of the damage caused by extreme weather fueled by climate change. Republican Gov. Phil Scott allowed the bill to become law without his signature, saying he is very concerned about the costs and outcome of the small state taking on “Big Oil” alone in what will likely be a grueling legal fight. But he acknowledged that he understands something has to be done to address the toll of climate change.

Montpelier Mayor Jack McCullough said the small city is still showing scars from the flooding.

“It’s not over for some people who are here,” he said. About a dozen homes were severely damaged.

But the city has come back in several ways, he added. Most of the downtown buildings and businesses have reopened and most of the flood victims are back in their homes, he said.

“We are moving forward but it’s still going to take more time,” he said.

Mike Miller, the city’s planning director, said Neveu’s home is at the top of the list to be elevated and if the city does one this year it will be hers unless some unforeseen technical issue arises. Most will likely happen next year, he said.

“Our goal is to save as many housing units as possible,” he said by email.

More than 3,160 homes statewide had enough damage to merit repair assistance from FEMA, according to Douglas Farnham, the state’s chief recovery officer. Towns are still doing assessments of severely damaged homes but so far 200 homeowners are interested in buyouts, he said by email.

Ed Haggett, 70, who lived next door to Neveu, is one of them.

“I lived here 47 years,” he said. “It was my retirement. I was a single parent, I raised my daughter. I sunk everything into it, paid it off and I thought I was set but I wasn’t. I lost everything.”

For the past year, Haggett has been living with his daughter and grandchildren and their significant others — seven adults — while he waits for a decision on whether Montpelier or FEMA will buy his severely damaged home. He can’t afford the cost to repair it and plans to get a loan from the Small Business Administration to build an addition onto his daughter’s home. But he said the organization lost his application in January for seven weeks, delaying the process.

Haggett’s homeowners’ insurance only paid for part of the damage, he said. For the last year, he’s been sleeping in his daughter’s den. The bureaucratic delays and uncertainty take a toll on people’s health, he said.

“It’s extremely, extremely, extremely frustrating,” Haggett said.

McCullough said the city is hoping to have enough funds to get the homes of the some of the hardest-hit people elevated or bought out, but wasn’t sure when.

In the nearby city of Barre, about 350 residential and commercial structures had some type of damage from last July’s flooding, according to city manager Nicolas Storellicastro. Sixty-two applications — both residential and commercial — have been submitted for buyouts and 10 homes have been identified for elevations, Storellicastro said.

Down the road in Berlin, last July’s flooding mangled the mobile home where Sara Morris, her husband, their three kids and his mother were living. For the last year, they’ve been staying with her mother and husband, and her brother — nine people in a three-bedroom house.

“There’s no space. We’re on top of each other,” she said. “It’s finally starting to get to where we are cracking at each other. We’re snapping, we’re arguing a little bit more.”

She has her children in counseling because of what the family has endured.

“I feel like sometimes I’ve lost kind of my kids a little bit just because of everything we’ve gone through,” she said.

Last month they were finally able to buy another mobile home and land, about 3 acres (1.21 hectare) in Middlesex. The home arrives in late August and they expect it will be ready for move-in by mid-September.

“I really wanted to make something better out of what we went through,” Morris said. “And I was determined.”

Neveu lives in a flood zone and had flood insurance but it only paid out half, she said. The house wasn’t damaged by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and she never expected the water to reach the first floor last year.

For now, while the house is in disrepair, she and her boys have strung party lights on the walls, mounted a flat-screen TV, and hung up artwork and a beloved chiming clock. They often spend evenings out on large porch with friends and enjoy watching the wide Winooski River across the street.

The family loves seeing downtown Montpelier being rebuilt and businesses reopen but it also makes them feel left behind, she said.

“It’s so bizarrely alienating because we haven’t been able to move forward at all,” Neveu said. “We’re thrilled at any positive movement but it’s really crazy a whole year later there isn’t even a plan. And not because we haven’t tried.”

National News

The Butler Farm Show, site of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former Preside...

Associated Press

Homeland Security inspector general investigates Secret Service handling of security at Trump rally

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general says its investigating the U.S. Secret Service’s handling of security for former President Donald Trump on the day a gunman tried to assassinate him at a Pennsylvania rally. The agency says in a brief notice on its website Wednesday the objective is to evaluate the […]

14 minutes ago

Associated Press

2024 Election Latest: Republicans shift their gaze to national security as RNC enters third day

The third day of the Republican National Convention kicks off Wednesday with Republicans — led by the newly nominated Donald Trump and his running mate, U.S. Sen. JD Vance of Ohio — shifting their focus to issues of national security and foreign policy. Republicans are expected to focus on Democratic President Joe Biden’s handling of […]

1 hour ago

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas., speaks during the Republican National Convention Tuesday, July 16, 2024, i...

Associated Press

FACT FOCUS: A look at ominous claims around illegal immigration made at the Republican convention

After Donald Trump triumphantly entered the hall on the second night of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, the program turned to one of his signature issues: illegal immigration. An ominous video of chaos at the U.S.-Mexico border led into to a speech by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who declared, “We are facing […]

2 hours ago

Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs poses in Los Angeles, Monday, July 15, 2024. Tubbs says he is r...

Associated Press

Former mayor known for guaranteed income programs launches bid for California lieutenant governor

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Michael Tubbs is running for lieutenant governor of California, returning to politics four years after voters in his Central Valley hometown ousted him as one of the country’s youngest mayors following his reboot of guaranteed income programs for the poor that made him a star. The 2026 campaign, announced Wednesday, offers […]

3 hours ago

FILE - A logging truck drives on the Interstate 5 bridge that spans the Columbia River and connects...

Associated Press

Aging bridges in 16 states will be improved or replaced with the help of $5B in federal funding

Dozens of aging bridges in 16 states will be replaced or improved with the help of $5 billion in federal grants announced Wednesday by President Joe Biden’s administration, the latest beneficiaries of a massive infrastructure law. The projects range from coast to coast, with the largest providing an additional $1.4 billion to help replace two […]

4 hours ago

President Joe Biden speaks at a 2024 Prosperity Summit Tuesday, July 16, 2024, in North Las Vegas, ...

Associated Press

Biden aims to cut through voter disenchantment as he courts Latino voters at Las Vegas conference

LAS VEGAS (AP) — President Joe Biden is trying to shore up support among disenchanted voters key to his reelection chances as he meets Wednesday with members of a Latino civil rights organization in the battleground state of Nevada. Biden is set to deliver an address to the UnidosUS annual conference in Las Vegas, where […]

4 hours ago

Their Vermont homes were inundated by extreme flooding. A year later, they still struggle to recover