After Irene, Londonderry Family Counts Blessings

02/03/12 7:50AM By Nancy Eve Cohen
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VPR/ Nancy Cohen
Dave Morris still checks on his flood-damaged home in Londonderry, even though it is no longer habitable.

(Host) Some of the people who were flooded by Tropical Storm Irene have been out their homes for five months now. And they say they're grieving, as if someone close to them has died. In the final part of our series, Vermonters Displaced By Irene, VPR's Nancy Cohen reports on one family who is also counting its blessings.

(Cohen) When Dave and Jen Morris compare their four-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot home in Londonderry to where they live now, it doesn't sound like they have much anymore.

(Jen Morris) "This is pretty tight. I don't even know what the square footage of this is. Maybe 200?"

(Dave Morris) "Possibly."

(Cohen) The couple and their two youngest sons are squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment in the home of a friend. Standing in the cramped kitchen, Jen says they were lucky they had a place to go to after the flood.

(Dave Morris) "Thank God. It's worked out as best as it could. We're tight. We're ready to move out and get our own place again. But it's been OK. We feel blessed to have it."

(Cohen) Jen is 44 , Dave 47. They met 26 years ago as young ski bums at Stratton Mountain. They have four sons, an 8- and a 9-year-old at home, and two in college. The couple runs a window-cleaning business that caters to second homeowners.

The day of the flood started off as a day off in pajamas for the family. But by mid-afternoon, the neighbor's yard had started to flood.

(Jen Morris) "And then within 20 minutes maybe it was coming into the house. I mean, I grabbed the kids and tried to get the dogs, captured the cat. But, literally, it was that quick that it all went down."

(Cohen) As water surrounded the house, Dave moved the cars, grabbed the computer, checkbooks and insurance policies. 

The children each took a favorite stuffed animal. And in a scene reminiscent of a high-tension action film, Jen and the children escaped, on foot, in the pouring rain.

VPR/ Nancy Cohen
Jen Morris and her two sons escaped the flood on foot, up this hill, behind their house.

(Dave Morris) "Came up through here - it's a pretty steep hill - past our tree house. She had the two young boys, and the small dog, Murphy, and our cat in a cat carrier and got to the top of the hill here."

(Cohen) Then they cut down through the woods to a road, where their friend, Lee, was waiting in her car. She took them to her home where they're living now.  But the West River was rising there, as well.

It was scary, especially for their 9-year-old, Bow.

(Dave Morris) "He stood in the living room here screaming at the river, telling it to stop, holding his little bear, just, ‘Stop it Stop it.'" 

(Cohen) But the river didn't stop and in less than an hour the family had to evacuate again.

(Jen Morris) "The Fire Department came and said, ‘You need to leave and you need to leave now. There are propane tanks coming down the river and we're afraid if they hit the bridge they're going to blow.' So we grabbed the children once again and the animals and ran outside and the air was just filled with the smell of propane. Scary!"

(Cohen) The couple went to South Londonderry and got their kids settled with friends. Then they returned to their home, now thigh-high with water, to try to save things.

(Dave Morris) "We were standing here on the landing, just tossing. That was our master bedroom up there. And we were just tossing things up on the floor, anything we could find."

(Cohen) Paintings. Furniture. But they couldn't save their 200-year-old house, that they had carefully restored.

(Dave Morris) "This was all hardwood floors that had we put in a year ago. And they were all buckled. So we had to rip those out."

(Cohen) The day after the flood, they also ripped out sheetrock and insulation. But it was no use. The mold was multiplying. The house destroyed.

But people started showing up to help.

(Dave Morris) "Some I never met before."

(Jen Morris) "Clients of ours."

(Dave Morris) "Yeah, exactly. People who I only know from washing their windows once a year came down with their families and helped us move things out. It was amazing, it really was, to see."

(Jen) "Humbling."

(Cohen) Now five months later the couple hopes to sell their property through FEMA's Hazard Mitigation program. But they don't expect to see any money until June, at the very earliest. In the meantime the bank still wants the mortgage paid.

(Dave Morris) "You're in limbo! You don't really know what's going to happen next. You're still paying and taking care of things that happened with your old house. And you can't live there. You're like on pins and needles."

(Jen Morris) "Anxiety and stress.  I don't think I've slept for weeks. You can't shut your mind off.  You don't know! You don't know where your life is going to go from here."

(Cohen) Jen says right after the flood, the two felt almost numb, busy, cleaning up. Now in the quiet of winter, she says there's too much time to think, remember and wait.

(Jen Morris) "It's the 4, 5 or 6 months after the event that everything starts to hit home. I actually think right now is one of the hardest times we've had. It's all just kind of hitting us. What we have in store, the things we have to go through, to put our lives back together, to make us whole again."

(Cohen) But the challenge of the flood has brought the family closer. Jen says they're thankful for what they do have, that they will be a family no matter where they live.

And the couple still finds things to laugh about. Like the fact that their dog, Moon, needs, what Jen calls, "doggy downers."

(Jen Morris) "They wanted to give him Prozac. The big dog. Not the little dog. He was fine. The 112-pound dog. The vet said, ‘He's stressed out.' I'm like, ‘He's stressed out!' Wow."

(Cohen) Before the flood the couple had decided to move to Florida to be near their elderly parents. But now, because of the support from friends and strangers, they've changed their mind.

(Dave Morris) "We toyed with the idea of moving away and we've done a 180 on that. We're not going anywhere. This is where we belong,"

(Cohen) But the tough economy has made it challenging to get another mortgage. The couple says they have to wait until the FEMA program buys their old home before they can get settled again.

For VPR News, I'm Nancy Cohen

(Host outro) Support for coverage of the recovery from Tropical Storm Irene comes from the VPR Journalism Fund.

Our series was produced by Ross Sneyd and Melody Bodette. And Chris Albertine was technical director.


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