Urge To Help Out After Irene Extended Beyond State Borders

04/09/12 7:50AM By Nancy Eve Cohen
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Tamara and Dan Kilmurray at their vacation home in Wilmington. The Kilmurrays helped fund a nonprofit that is buying and renovating flood-damaged buildings, renting and eventually selling them to new businesses.

Tropical Storm Irene knocked out power to Connecticut for more than a week when it raced up the East Coast six months ago.

But as Vermonters well know, the damage here was on another order of magnitude. And the state is still recovering from the floods that followed the storm.

As VPR's Nancy Cohen reports, the urge to help is forging a sense of community that extends beyond state borders.

About every weekend in Vermont there's a population surge.

Just check out the license plates on Interstate 91. Lots of them are from New York and Connecticut.

"This is the place we come to exhale," says Tamara Kilmurray from Greenwich, Conn. She and her husband Dan are walking across snow covered fields on their  63 acres in Wilmington. Dan points out a favorite spot, "Up the side of that hill and its just magnificent back  there. There's gorgeous open fields and huge pine groves. It's wonderful."

The Kilmurrays say this is where they escape the congestion of southern Connecticut and Manhattan, where Dan is a financial adviser. But when Tropical Storm Irene hit this summer their connection to Vermont grew even deeper

On August 28th rivers jumped their banks eating away roads, isolating communities and displacing more than 1,000 Vermonters. Susan Lavigne spoke about it right after the flood. "We lost our home. We lost everything we had," Lavigne said. "I don't have a picture of my children from when they were little. I'm just devastated. I just don't know what to say."

Governor Peter Shumlin turned to those from out-of-state, who own vacation homes, asking for help.

"We need you now! We need your generosity, and your kindness in making these homes available to good, hard-working Vermonters, who have lost their homes."

Besides homeowners, business-owners were also hit hard. Especially in the village of Wilmington.

Back in Greenwich, the Kilmurrays were dealing with a flooded basement and no electricity for more than a week. But their minds were on the people in their second community.

"All this is happening in a place that we care desperately about. We want to be there. We want to pitch in. We want to get our hands dirty. You are overwhelmed with the sense of wanting to help," says Tamara Kilmurray.

But the ripped-up roads to Wilmington kept Tamara home with their two young kids. Even so, she loaded up the family truck with everything from socks to cell phones. Dan drove the supplies up and went to work.

"Ripping sheet rock out of buildings and making dump runs and really felt the energy and the misery at the same point. I mean, witnessing some of the business owners crying in the streets  and seeing them, you know, ripping  their business establishments to pieces, it was dramatic," said Dan Kilmurray. 

Before the flood Wilmington, which is near the Mt Snow ski area, was a place that vibrated with people. Its eclectic mix of upscale shops and down-home restaurants drew visitors and locals alike.  But after the flood, it was like a ghost town.

Dan started meeting with members of Wilmington's select-board and local business-owners to explore ways to help the town in the long term.

"I started waking up in the middle of the night thinking about this.  And I couldn't sleep!  And as a result I sat with Tamara and I said we have to do something here," said Dan Kilmurray.

The Kilmurrays decided to donate a quarter of a million dollars and start a non-profit with others from the community including a state rep and the owner of an architectural firm.

"The decision was made to form our own board of directors from people in the area that we thought had complimentary skill sets that could help with all of  this. And to attempt to do something really special that would last forever and could really make a meaningful impact on the rebuilding of the village," said Tamara Kilmurray. 

The new organization, The Wilmington Fund VT is working with the Preservation Trust of Vermont. Its mission is  to buy flood-damaged buildings that are designated as historic, renovate them, and find entrepreneurs to rent and eventually buy them. The Fund made its first purchase in March.

For VPR News, I'm Nancy Cohen.

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