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FEMA coordinating officer answers questions about Vermont flooding response

 A man in a white button-down speaks at a podium
Bob Kinzel
/
Vermont Public
William Roy, FEMA federal coordinating officer, speaks at a press conference Wednesday, July 19.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency now has more than 300 workers on the ground in Vermont assessing damage to homes and public infrastructure from last week's historic floods.

William Roy of Jericho is heading up FEMA's recovery efforts as the agency's coordinating officer. He sat down with Vermont Public's Bob Kinzel after a press conference Wednesday, starting by talking about FEMA's primary role in Vermont right now.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Carmen and Nick, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency who said they were not permitted to share their last names, canvas on Elm Street in Montpelier on Sunday to recommend resources to residents impacted by last week's flooding.
Mike Dougherty
/
Vermont Public
Carmen and Nick, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency who said they were not permitted to share their last names, canvas on Elm Street in Montpelier on Sunday to recommend resources to residents impacted by last week's flooding.

William Roy: Obviously, individuals are greatly impacted by what has happened. So that's why our individual assistance program kicks right off. We had individuals the door knockers, the Disaster Survivor Assistance, actually in Burlington, before it was declared, so that once it was declared we could get him out of the communities and get a sense of what the need was. And so right now, I think it's those people who have had direct impacts from the storm, we want to ensure that they have an opportunity to sign up for assistance from FEMA, to get them and help them get back on their feet.

Right behind that, and not very far behind that is assistance for, you know, all the infrastructure, right? Because just to be able go around the state and do the things you need to do to recover as an individual, you've got to be able to get places. And if it's cut off, you can't get the roads. That's a very difficult thing as well.

Bob Kinzel: You mentioned maybe 300 FEMA personnel in the field right now. Are they knocking on a lot of doors?

Yes, sir. So we have 19 teams for our Disaster Survivor Assistance out in the communities right now, in places that we'll coordinate with the state as to where they they see the greatest need, so they can go out and just check on folks. Typically, they'll ask them, what are the top three concerns that you may have? ... The feedback we're getting right now, from, you know, from yesterday's reports are basically looking at loss of loss of employment opportunities, because, you know, they can't get there, their businesses are shut down. And also debris actually being out there, and the expenses of having to get rid of the debris. So those are the primary things that they're expressing as concerns.

Piles of flood debris remain on sidewalks around downtown Montpelier on the morning of Monday, July 17, 2023.
Mike Dougherty
/
Vermont Public
Piles of flood debris remain on sidewalks around downtown Montpelier on the morning of Monday, July 17, 2023.

How soon can this process actually turn money around to some of these homeowners?

Yes, sir. So we turned the program on with a declaration on Friday. Monday morning, people had money in their bank accounts if they sign up for electronic funds transfer. If they ask for a check, obviously, that takes a little longer with the post office. But that's how quickly it can go through.

More from Vermont Public: Scott administration says flood recovery still 'all hands on deck'

How concerned are you about scams in some of these neighborhoods?

You always have to be worried about scams, especially taking advantage people right after they've had their very worst day. Right. I mean, that's just horrific. So that's why we always tell people make sure that they are have identifications, check the identification to make sure they are who they are. ... And don't give out your social security number and your banking information. You know, we — you do that online. You do that via the phone. OK, but you just don't hand that out.

More from Vermont Public: How to avoid scams during Vermont's disaster recovery

I think there are six declared counties right now, a lot of damage in some undeclared counties. What's the likelihood that those undeclared counties will be certified?

Yes, sir. That is a hard question to answer because the president of the United States is responsible. Since it's already been declared, FEMA headquarters are working closely to take a look at the damages that we have been able to assess, and to make a determination as to whether those additional counties will receive individual assistance. We're also in those counties for public assistance as well for assessments.

So I can't give you a likelihood because I don't know. But there obviously is a lot of damage out there. There's always a question about why those six counties. How come those six counties, right, how come not ours? Well, in order to get the declarations as quickly as possible, we used imagery to collect the information. And for the counties that were impacted, it was easy to see with that imagery.

Editor's note: Residents in Caledonia and Orange countiesbecame eligible for individual assistancefrom the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday, July 21.

An excavator works on a road that has been reduced to one-way because part of it has fallen toward a river
Courtesy
/
Vermont Agency of Transportation
Road damage on Route 15 in Hardwick, photographed July 14. Hardwick is in Caledonia County, which was not included in President Joe Biden's initial major disaster declaration for Vermont that unlocked FEMA individual aid.

This time of year with all the foliage we have, sometimes it's really hard to see the the total impacts. And so we had data from those six, and we wanted to move forward very quickly. The president wanted to move very quickly, forward very quickly to be able to provide assistance to Vermont.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Flood recovery resources

      Updated: July 21, 2023 at 11:55 AM EDT
      This story was updated to reflect that residents in Caledonia and Orange counties are now eligible for federal assistance.
      Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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