“I Can See the River Rising”
By Susan Kim*
May 1, 2012 –Diane Graham moved into her new mobile home just 10 days ago after losing almost everything to Hurricane Irene in August 2011. From her front window in Berlin, Vermont, she still keeps a wary eye on the river.
“From here, I can see the river rising,” she said, “and I watch out this window whenever it rains.”
The night the hurricane struck, Graham was watching in just the same way. Within 20 minutes, water lapped over the riverbank, crept across a field, and began to fill the road in front of the Weston Mobile Home Park. Graham grabbed a few personal items and evacuated to her mother's apartment on higher ground, minutes before a seven-foot wall of water swept into her home and dozens of others.
“I swore I wouldn't come back here,” she said, “but then I began looking at rent payments. I've always been a homeowner, and I hated to become a renter.”
Graham, who is semi-retired with a small housecleaning business, has always been self-sustaining. After the flood, she needed help but wasn't ready to admit it for many weeks – until she met JoEllen Calderara, chair of the Central Vermont Long-Term Recovery Committee.
The committee is one of 10 across the state identifying unmet needs in communities affected by flooding. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has provided training and support that has helped these committees bring hope to thousands of people. Vermont's flood survivors have long since faded from the headlines, but for people like Graham, long-term recovery has been a daily challenge, month after month.
“We were able to help Diane with financing for a new mobile home,” said Calderara, who explained that Berlin's mobile homeowners, many of whom bought their homes in the 1970s and paid off any loans years before the flood hit, have a difficult time getting new loans.
“You need $20,000 to $30,000 to finance a new mobile home, and there are very few used ones on the market,” she said. More than 10 percent of people affected by 2011 flooding in Vermont lived in mobile homes statewide.
Inside her new home, Graham brushes her hand across a new bed, purchased with funds from the committee. A United Methodist volunteer team is scheduled to build a new porch for her home in June.
She said she's glad she found the courage to ask for help, and she's trying to help others who are also walking down the same long road to recovery.
“I've already talked to this 70-year-old lady who is still living in her home,” said Graham. “It was damaged by the flooding. She has this rickety porch and she needs a new roof. But she's trying to do everything herself. I told her to take the help. She deserves it.”
You can help people walking the road to long-term recovery. Give to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to UMCOR.org.