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Vt. gov. seeks vacation homes for flood victims

Diane Stoddard hasn't been back to see her home since Tropical Storm Irene hit.

It doesn't exist anymore. And she can't bear to see the wreckage.

The three-bedroom structure, which had an attached garage and sunroom, once sat in a low-lying clearing next to the White River in Royalton.

On Aug. 28, at the height of Irene's rainy assault on Vermont, the swollen river overflowed its banks and lifted the double-wide mobile home and then the attached garage and carried them away.

Now, it's in thousands of little pieces, the debris field strewn across three neighbors' properties in a quarter-mile long swath that looks more like the site of a plane crash than a residential lot.

"It's just completely flattened," said Nancy Harter, 70, of Royalton, who was eyeballing the damage along with husband, Phil Harter, on Tuesday. "You can see how at the bend of the river, the water didn't have any place to go and it just slammed into the home."

Owners Bill and Diane Stoddard aren't alone.

According to preliminary estimates by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 101 owner-occupied homes were destroyed, 423 owner-occupied homes suffered major damage, 23 rental properties were destroyed and 146 suffered major damage.

Vermont Emergency Management spokesman Mark Bosma says the numbers are preliminary. There could be more.

One week into post-Irene Vermont, state officials are beginning to look for ways to help those displaced. On Tuesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin met with townspeople in Moretown and outlined the FEMA aid and state programs that may be used to help people who lost their homes entirely or can't live in them for now.

Shumlin also appealed to owners of second homes in Vermont, asking that they volunteer to play host to "thousands" of Vermonters who have no place to live.

At the Stoddard property in Royalton, broken slabs of concrete, a "Welcome" sign and some white PVC piping stick up out of the rubble where the foundation used to be.

Across Bridge Street, the debris — a mattress, slats of wood that may have been furniture once and pieces of metal, aluminum siding and roofing materials — is embedded in fallen 40-foot locust trees that were uprooted by the force of the water, the force of the house or both.

Bill Stoddard, 64, and Diane Stoddard, 66, were safely evacuated by the South Royalton Fire Department hours before it happened.

But they watched from the home of next-door neighbor Matt Hoffmann, who lives on higher ground, as the river rose and claimed the original part of the home they'd lived in for 10 years.

"The water finally got the earth underneath of what would be their foundation. It split in between. The house came off first, right into here," he said.

Then he heard it float noisily away.

"I'm standing up listening to snap, snap, snap," he said, describing the sound as the mass of water and building debris plowed through a stand of 40-foot locust trees. "All I was thinking was 'don't hit the barn, don't hit the barn,'" he said, referring to the barn on his property.

The Stoddards, who did not want to be interviewed for this article, are now staying at a Hanover, N.H., home that was offered by a woman whom the couple didn't know.

Seth Stoddard, their 32-year-old son, said his father had had flood insurance but let it lapse after last year because of the expense and the fact that it wouldn't cover the replacement value of the house. They talked about the storm beforehand, but mostly about the wind that was expected, he said.

"He basically assumed that at some point, the water would probably come up and flood into the garage, and he'd have to replace the furnace or something like that. But what he was paying in premiums, he'd save that in two or three years if he had to put a new furnace in.

Asked how they were coping with the loss of their home, Seth Stoddard said: "I don't know as it's fully set in yet. It has with my mom. My dad's been more worried about her. He's the kind of person that can set it aside and deal with what needs to be done and work the emotion of it at a later date."

Bill Stoddard has been back to the site several times but his wife hasn't.

"My mom just recently has been able to talk about it," said Seth Stoddard. "And she hasn't been back at all, or seen any pictures. And doesn't want to."

Seth Stoddard's wife, Shannon, told Shumlin about the house when he met with residents Sunday in South Royalton, telling him a community cleanup effort was planned for the following day.

Shumlin told her not to worry about cleanup, the state would get a truck to do it.

On Tuesday, Seth Stoddard said it was his understanding that FEMA would remove the debris.

A FEMA spokesman said that was unlikely. If the family applies for and receives a grant, they could use some of the money to have the debris removed, said Billy Penn. "There's nothing designated for debris removal," said Penn.

But Shumlin's office said it was working with Vermont Emergency Management and FEMA to figure out a way to remove the former house so that the family wouldn't be stuck paying.

"The answer is that when a house goes down like that, the best solution is for the community to clean up the debris — in this case Royalton — and they can then bill and add that to their list of public expenses under FEMA's public disaster declaration," said Sue Allen, a Shumlin spokeswoman.

"It's happened in other communities, where someone's house is washed onto someone else's property. The town should clean up the debris and bill FEMA."