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How to help with flood recovery efforts in Vermont

More heavy rain is in the forecast this week for New Hampshire and Vermont, as communities are still recovering from damages brought on by flooding earlier in July.

Vermont was hit especially hard last week. NHPR’s All Things Considered Host Julia Furukawa spoke with Jake McBride, a community organizer there, who's been on the ground helping with flood cleanup. McBride talked about the biggest challenges facing those affected by flooding and what people can do to help.


You've been on the ground helping with cleanup efforts since the initial flooding last week and also just before this interview. What are you seeing?

I'm still doing a lot of initial canvassing and just kind of going neighborhood to neighborhood and seeing what people need. It's a pretty wide range of needs depending on the area. Some areas got hit a lot harder than others. Some folks, their whole homes are collapsing in on themselves and foundations are gone. There are some houses in the river.

I've been down in a neighborhood that's just outside of Montpelier, that's pretty low and definitely in a flood plain. A lot of the houses not only have water in the basements, but up in the first floor as well. And so we've been cutting up carpet and shoveling mud out of the first floor, taking a lot of furniture out, trying to salvage any personal items or family heirlooms.

But everyone's definitely fighting an uphill battle. The community has really come through to help out.

And what are some of the biggest challenges that folks are facing? I mean, it sounds like there's serious damage to homes. But anything aside from that, as far as what people need next?

A basketball court is flooded with water in Plainfield, Vermont.
Jake McBride
A basketball court is flooded with water in Plainfield, Vermont.

For the past few days, the roads have been really awful. And with the continuous rain, they'll repair a road and then part of it will wash out again. And so it's been really hard to get from place to place. We've had a hard time distributing materials.

A lot of the relief efforts and materials have been really centralized in the more urban areas — at least urban for Vermont. Montpelier, obviously as the state capital, has been getting a lot of attention, and we're trying to divert some of that to Barre, which is another city nearby [that’s] more working class and definitely has less access to resources. Right now, the challenge is getting more of those resources to small rural communities, some of which were hit incredibly hard and are just harder to get to and have lower populations, but higher need at the moment.

Something else we're just seeing is a lack of housing. We've had a housing shortage in the state already and this is just really going to exacerbate it. We've got a lot of houses that are unlivable and a lot of houses that I'm sure people are going to try to repair. But there is a worry about people living in moldy homes or in homes where the insulation has been stripped from the walls. And come winter, that's going to be a big problem.

Now, it's important to note that Vermont state officials are recommending that flood recovery be done safely and on a hyperlocal level. But what can folks do to help with flood recovery efforts?

It really depends on what you have to offer. I think the hyperlocal thing is important to stress because a lot of the roads are already very weak because they've been washed out. And so, we're trying not to have too many cars traveling on them. So keeping the number of people down to just the necessary folks in the area is important.

But if you've got monetary resources to donate, make sure you're looking into what you're donating to. There are definitely a lot of people who could use the help.

If you like to vacation in Vermont and come here a couple times a year, think about small businesses that you like to go to. Call them or order online, and get a gift card ahead of time because they probably are underwater right now, but could definitely use the financial support and would be happy to serve you next time you visit the state.

I've been telling folks who own second homes or Airbnbs to please consider offering them as free places to stay for people who are unhoused at the moment, and going forward, in the next year, [to] consider offering them as long term rentals instead of as short term rentals or vacation homes, and having them sit empty. Because we're definitely going to be in a housing crisis following this.

We've had really fantastic mutual aid efforts nearby, people coming from different parts of the state to help out. It makes me proud to be a Vermonter.

Here in New Hampshire, we saw some intense flash flooding over the weekend. What advice do you have for organizers here as they respond in their communities?

Make sure you're taking care of yourself. We all have to take care of each other, but we can't take care of each other unless we're taking care of ourselves.

And also, look to the places that aren't getting the attention. It's often the people in the smaller areas that don't think they're entitled to help that might need the help the most.

New Hampshire Mutual Aid Relief Fund has locations throughout the state to drop off supplies.

You can find more information on how to volunteer and donate from Vermont Public here.

Michelle Liu is the All Things Considered producer at NHPR. She joined the station in 2022 after graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism.
Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.
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