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Irene Still Causing Pain Two Years Later

See a town-by-town breakdown of FEMA Irene assistance at VPR's Mapping the Money project.

Long term Irene recovery projects are still underway across Vermont.   In Rutland County, 90 volunteers have put in nearly 300 hours of work in the last four months - helping people like Kim Garner, who’s mobile home was ruined by the storm nearly two years ago.  

The Rutland woman says she’s had to live out of a suitcase ever since. 

But with the help of volunteers, she’s hopeful that may change.   This past weekend, a half-dozen donned blue plastic gloves to empty the washed out structure Kim Garner called home for 25 years.

Garner stood on dingy black carpet that she says was once white.   “You can see how high the water was,” Garner says pointing to a line on the  wall.   “We had over 2 feet of water in here at one time.  The smell was atrocious.  They had someone’s diesel tank came up and we had diesel everywhere.”

The smell has faded, but mold is everywhere, the floor is buckled and soft in places and the front porch sags oddly to one side.  Most of the big items have already been moved out to a dumpster or to a storage facility.  Now volunteers are helping to clear out the rest.

Garner is hopeful that once her home is emptied, it can be hauled away and a new mobile home put in its place - set higher, she says, to protect it from possible future flooding. 

But until that happens, she and her granddaughter, who she’s been raising since infancy, continue to live wherever they can - in apartments, motels and with friends and family.   “So we’ve had to travel,” says Garner, “live in North Carolina; live in Florida.  And of course the money of traveling back and forth, whether we’ve driven or flown, and then you have to rent vehicles - it’s very costly.”

Garner says making ends meet has been nearly impossible.  While she received some emergency funds, her home did not qualify for a FEMA buyout, which still disappoints her.

But for the 46-year-old Rutland native, a much bigger heartache hit five months before the storm.  Her 21-year-old daughter, Kristine, died unexpectedly in New York City. 

“It’s hard,” says Garner, “I’m trying to not to be sentimental about things.“   Standing in her ruined living room, she looks around at the boxes and debris.  So much was destroyed, she says, yet tucked away in the wreckage she’s found a few priceless mementos. “There was some stuff that was very, very, very dirty, but not broken.  It was a bunch of pottery, and I told one of the guys who was here volunteering, I said, ‘this is stuff that my children made in school and I said I’ll jut wash it because it’s one of the only things I have left of her.’”

Garner suffers from circulation problems and arthritis, which makes walking difficult.  She says having the help of volunteers has been tremendous.  While Irene ruined her home, she says her daughter’s death put the storm into perspective and despite all the tragedy, Garner remains optimistic about her family’s future.

“I really believe everything happens for a reason,” she says. “And we may not know what that reason is.  It might not come for a long time.  But,” Garner says, “I’m grateful every day that I still have my grand daughter; that she is such a part of my daughter.  And I don’t know if she keeps me young or old at times - but she definitely keeps me going.”

Relief agencies have been working with Garner trying to find someone who can donate a mobile home or sell one at a reduced cost.   Garner says her granddaughter starts kindergarten this fall and after nearly two years of turmoil, she’s desperate to bring stability back to both their lives. 

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