Newfane Couple Is Determined To Find A New Home

02/01/12 7:50AM By Nancy Eve Cohen
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VPR/Nancy Eve Cohen
Tara Torcoletti stands in front of the site of her home, which washed down the Rock River during Tropical Storm Irene.

(Host) Five months ago, the floodwaters brought by Irene clawed at the landscape, pulling some homes down river and damaging others. Fourteen-hundred households were devastated.

About half of those left homeless by Irene are still renting or staying in borrowed homes.

They say it's tiring to be in limbo for so many months. Not knowing where their next home will be and when they'll be there. Children are also troubled by the loss.

This week VPR looks at "Vermonters Displaced By Irene." Today, VPR's Nancy Cohen reports on a couple whose entire home washed away.

(Tara Torcoletti) "Kitty!"

(Cohen) Tara Torcoletti is poking inside her neighbor's shed in South Newfane searching for her missing cat.

(Torcoletti) "He can get in through the little holes. Used to hang out in here."

(Cohen) On this day in mid-September, just two weeks after the flood, Torcoletti, a 42-year-old veterinarian, is still holding out hope for her cat, named Sly. But she had to let go of her two-bedroom ranch.

(Torcoletti) "That's where the house used to be. It's just gone now. Its right where that orange tape is that's where the doorstep of the house was."

(Cohen) All that's left on this dreary day is an oil tank, three-quarter's full. And a potted begonia, still blooming. The Rock River ate the ground away beneath the house.

(Torcoletti) "The house was actually sitting there, just hanging on with all the ground out of it. And then it just finally just, the whole thing just slid in."

(Cohen) When she saw the front posts of her house slump into the water Torcolletti turned away and trudged up a hill behind the house with her animals. But she heard it go in. Her boyfriend, 34-year-old Brandon Holda, was stuck on the other side of the river, with a full view of the house as it sank into the water

Today, the two are living in someone else's house. Holda, a social worker, says losing their home completely is actually better than being left with a house that's destroyed.

(Holda) "What happened with our house is horrible, but it's much easier than having to, I think, clean out a house you can't live in anymore and go back over and over to just salvage things."

VPR/Nancy Eve Cohen
Looking down the Rock River. Tara Torcoletti's house washed downstream from the right bank.
(Torcoletti) "For us we didn't have much to clean up. So I mean the house was gone. I had to go have some metal hauled away. The oil tank had to be drained and there's still some garbage over there, but that's all I have."

(Cohen) Torcoletti wishes she could have salvaged sentimental things like her photographs. And gifts from her stepfather and others who have passed away. And the couple misses being in their home - and even the river that took it.

(Torcoletti) "I just liked sitting down in the sunroom and drinking my coffee. I mean, just watching the river. I always liked doing that. Or hanging out in the hammock by the river."

(Holda) "Or waking up in bed you can hear the river, always. Or go down and watch the sun come up too through the window right there."

(Cohen) Torcoletti, who owned the house for eight years, poured a lot of work into it. She redid the floors, the bathroom, installed a new woodstove, new windows and a new roof. She built an inside wall made of river rocks. And she and Holda paid off the mortgage.

(Holda) "I guess the only bad thing really comes down to, is we lost all of our equity. We were aggressive paying off the house. Paid it off pretty quick. So a lot of our savings that we could have been saving in our personal pocket went to pay off that house and now it's just gone."

(Cohen) Holda says he's OK starting out again with few possessions, a clean slate. Torcoletti says staying busy has helped her cope.

(Torcoletti) "Some days I've had really bad days. Mostly I've been OK. But just keeping working, just trying to find somewhere else to go, is basically what we've been doing."

(Cohen) Like many who lost their homes, Torcoletti received $30,000 from FEMA right after the flood. But her bank wants that money to pay off a home equity loan.

In the meantime, the town of Newfane is applying for what's called a "hazard mitigation planning grant" through FEMA. That money can be used to buy flood damaged property, like Torcoletti's, for 75 percent of its assessed value before the flood. The application is due mid-February, but the couple is ready to move on now.

(Holda) "You're sitting in limbo. Waiting. Waiting. ‘Where's our next home going to be?'"

(Cohen) The couple is spending every weekend looking at houses for sale. Since the flood they've stayed rent-free in three different homes. They're grateful for the generosity of the homeowners who were strangers before the flood. And of their neighbors for things big and small.

One neighbor rescued Holda's flannel shirt. He turns around to show the patch.

(Torcoletti) "Hilly, our, neighbor, patched it for him. It was all ripped up. She pulled it out of the river and fixed it."

(Cohen) Another neighbor found their cat, Sly. And something surprising survived. Three glass jars were found nestled on some rocks.

(Torcoletti) "For some reason, three jars of maple syrup made it through. So, I don't know why those made it, but they made it."

(Cohen) These two are also determined to make it back into their next home. But funding from FEMA isn't expected, until April, at the very earliest.

For VPR News I'm Nancy Cohen

(Host) Support for our coverage of the recovery from Tropical Storm Irene is provided by the VPR Journalism Fund.

Tomorrow, we'll check in with a family from Wardsboro who have struggled in the months since their harrowing escape from Irene.


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