After paying rent for her entire adult life, buying a mobile home was a dream come true for Sandra Gaffney. But 11 months later, that dream was destroyed by floodwaters when the remnants of Hurricane Irene ripped through her mobile home park, flooding her trailer and about 70 others.
Gaffney, 64, had gotten out in time, fleeing to her sister's home in neighboring Montpelier, unlike her neighbors at Weston's Mobile Home Park, who had to be rescued by boats and high-water vehicles.
The retired paraeducator learned of the devastation when she saw a photo of her trailer on a local radio station's Facebook page.
"I saw my trailer with water all the way up to the windows," she said. "And then I totally sobbed."
Thirteen mobile home parks in Vermont were flooded when the Aug. 28 storm hit, turning streams and rivers into raging waterways that carried away bridges and large segments of roads and damaged or destroyed 840 homes. That includes at least 141 mobile homes that were destroyed and 220 that were flooded, some so severely they may be declared total losses.
Now those homeowners _ many of them with no flood insurance _ must pay to remove the destroyed trailers and some are waiting for Federal Emergency Management Agency help. Others have no long-term option for housing with winter just a few months away.
"My impression from talking to people is that a lot them still don't know what they're going to do," said Sarah Weintraub, an organizer with the Vermont Workers' Center, a group that works for social and economic justice in Vermont.
"We are concerned that a lot of people are doubling up with neighbors, staying with family, some may even be staying in campers," said Jennifer Hollar, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development.
"We feel there might be a second wave of need as people run to the end of the time when their temporary situations are going to work for them. Our message to everyone _ and we're trying to send this message as loudly and as clearly _ is to register with FEMA, even if you have a temporary situation."
Mobile homes, an affordable housing option for many, are especially vulnerable to floodwaters. In Vermont, many were built in the 1960s on flood plains before the state's land-use rules were enacted, said Shawn Gilpin, program director for the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity mobile home project.
The materials used in older homes and the way many of them were constructed make them rife for mold infiltration, he said.
"They tend to be more difficult to repair than to replace, usually," he said.
In Williamstown, Mass., near the Vermont state line, floodwaters entered more than 200 mobile homes in one mobile home park on the Hoosick River. Five weeks later, only 25 homes have been repaired and made habitable.
"More units are going to be very hard and very expensive to come by," said Town Manager Peter Fohlin.
In Vermont and other parts of the country hit by disastrous floods this year, existing shortages of affordable housing have compounded efforts to get replacement housing for trailer dwellers.
Thousands of homes, including 650 mobile homes, were inundated by flooding that lasted for three weeks in Minot, N.D., from June to early July.
"And Minot had a critical housing shortage before the flood ... so basically there are no apartments to be rented and no homes to be bought. And then we lost 4,000 housing units," said Maj. Gen. Murray Sagsveen, the National Guard officer coordinating the state's flood relief efforts.
Because the flooding took place in the summer, when temperatures soared into the 90s, mold became a tremendous problem at the mobile home parks, Sagsveen said.
"You didn't even want to get close to them," he said.
FEMA has brought in about 1,000 trailers so people can live on their lots as they repair their homes, he said. The agency has also put people up in motels. More than 100 are still in shelters, Sagsveen said.
In eastern and central Pennsylvania, hard-hit by Irene and the remnants of Hurricane Lee, floodwaters destroyed at least one trailer park, in Pine Grove. Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency director Glenn Cannon said about 400 temporary housing units will be needed around the region. About 25 relief trailers have been delivered for flood victims in the Harrisburg area.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has asked FEMA to provide temporary housing for his state's victims.
Lawrence Miller, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said FEMA has about 10 mobile housing units on standby in Springfield in anticipation that Shumlin's request will be granted. More could be brought in if needed.
Gaffney is paying $650 for three months to stay in a condo that's for sale. After that she doesn't know what she'll do.
"Because of the flood and everything, I'm moving on," she said.
She said she can't afford to fix her trailer with its buckled floor, damaged walls and insulation. And she can't buy another one, she said. Unlike many of her neighbors, she did have flood insurance and hopes it will cover her remaining $24,000 mortgage.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Lawrence Miller, the secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, negotiated with contractors to set the cost of removing a mobile home at $1,500, much lower than the $4,000 that homeowners faced paying.
But Gaffney and others say $1,500 is still a lot to pay for those on a fixed income.
Some of her neighbors are fixing up their trailers. Gaffney worries about mold.
"Some people are fixing theirs up, the folks that don't have mortgages, because they have nothing else," she said. "They're feverishly trying to fix up their mobile homes."
Some Vermont mobile home owners have gotten FEMA checks _ they're eligible for up to $30,200 _ and bought new homes, Hollar said.
"We're hearing anecdotally that sales among the state's mobile home dealers have gone way up since the storm," she said.
Others are appealing for more assistance since the water damage turned out to be worse than originally thought, she said.
"So we expect that number of destroyed (mobile homes) to go up," Hollar said.
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