09.20.11

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Vermonters Helping Vermonters After Irene

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

In the weeks since Tropical Storm Irene devastated much of our state, Vermonters continue to struggle to regain a sense of normalcy. Bridges, railways and roads remain damaged or wiped out. Many homes, businesses and schools that were not entirely washed away need profound repairs. Farmers are struggling to salvage what they can of their livelihoods. 

From amid the din and destruction and debris of this horrific natural disaster come hundreds of heartening stories I have heard or witnessed about Vermonters rising to the occasion by helping their neighbors, friends, and even strangers, as our state mobilizes to recover from the storm. Vermonters are known for our sense of community and our flinty determination, and our state’s people have proven their fortitude tenfold in the aftermath of this disaster. 

The Weston Playhouse had half of their theater and performance stage wiped out by the floods. The theater group stripped the entire playhouse and set up a temporary stage so that they could perform their upcoming show. The Town Meeting House in Pittsfield has been converted into a medical clinic. The Air National Guard had dropped more than 14,000 Meals Ready to Eat in the town so that those stranded had enough food. In addition to those meals, many others have donated meat and other goods so that there is plenty of food to go around. Schools have fundraised to help provide free, hot breakfasts to students. And Vermonters around the state have been opening their homes to those who lost theirs during the storm. 

One way where the indomitable Vermont spirit has endured is through the remarkable efforts of Vermont students and schools.  The schools faced tremendous challenges opening their doors just days after Irene descended on us. Many delayed opening just a few days if any, and other school buildings are serving as community centers for families and children who have lost everything in the storm. 

Here are just a few examples of how Vermont schools and their students are making the most out of an impossible situation:

  • This photo that ran in the New York Times shows the trail that Barstow Memorial School students in Chittenden used to navigate their way to catch a bus the rest of the way to school. Due to a washout on Route 4 that took weeks to fix, students slogged along a muddy trail to meet vans and cars half a mile away to cart the students to buses that will take the students the rest of the way to school.  Community members helped by chaperoning the children on the trail while others passed out snacks and refreshments to help the students along. The students arrived mud-caked but proud of their twice-a-day routine to make it to school.  
  • Moretown Elementary fared worse than many schools in the state. Even though the building sustained damage when flooding overtook the school’s septic system, the principal and teachers came together to organize a series of field trips to get the kids out of a devastated town so they can continue their studies. The children visited Shelburne Farms and the Montshire Museum of Science, to name two venues. Last week, with the school still closed due to hazardous materials, Moretown students took class outside. The baseball field was covered by donated tents, as seen in this photo on the website of Vermont Public Radio, where teachers held classes and the school’s office is operated from a pop-up trailer. Moretown students took well to their new school schedule, and teachers there are glad to provide support to their students who have lost so much in the storm.  

The children of Vermont and their families and teachers are doing their utmost to make their way through these extremely difficult times. But these inventive measures are not permanent solutions. Vermonters are doing all they can and more to help each other recover, which makes it all the more dismaying that some in Congress seemed determined to play politics with disaster relief. Millions of American families and businesses, not just in Vermont but across the country, have been devastated by an unprecedented series of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters this year, reaching into nearly every single State of our Union. This is no time to dawdle or to ignore the urgent needs of fellow Americans. We are one Nation, and until now we have willingly and generously come to aid of our fellow Americans in times of need. 

This is the time to help our fellow Americans who have suffered tremendous losses. Many of our states will take years to recover. I am pleased the Senate passed this essential bill last week, and I urge the House to send this emergency disaster relief bill to the President, without further delay.  

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