UPDATED Irene damage: 700 homes wrecked; Public infrastructure costs will be in “hundreds of millions”

Jon Graham stands in front of what's left of his house after Tropical Storm Irene tore through Rochester. VTD/Josh Larkin

Jon Graham stands in front of what's left of his house after Tropical Storm Irene tore through Rochester. VTD/Josh Larkin

State and federal officials have sharpened their pencils, and the tallies for the scale and cost of the damage from Tropical Storm Irene is beginning to add up. Private property damage estimates are starting to take shape, and state infrastructure costs will likely be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, state officials say.

About 700 residential structures were severely damaged or destroyed, according to preliminary estimates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A total of 423 owner-occupied dwellings were significantly damaged, said Mark Bosma, communications director for Vermont Emergency Management. About 101 homes were destroyed. The number of damaged rental properties totaled 146; about 23 were destroyed.

The damage to state highways and bridges will be in the hundreds of millions, according to a Vermont Agency of Transportation official.

Chris Cole, director of planning for the Agency of Transportation, was in Newfane and Jamaica on Tuesday to survey the wreckage. He described the damage as “pretty significant.” In Newfane, half of a house is sitting in the middle of a town road. On Route 107, he said “there’s stretches of the highway miles where there is no road — there is just a river there.”

The estimates for town highway costs are still too fluid to even guesstimate at this point, he said.

“It’s too dynamic,” Cole said. “Every time we look at something, something else can pop up. With flash flooding last week, we’re redoing work we’ve already done.”

Cole said the Rutland incident command center is in the middle of surveying damage in Districts 2 and 4. So far, 30 “structures” from bridges to large culverts are “gone” and the center has only reviewed a third of the bridges and culverts in the districts, he said.

State and federal officials are still in counting mode. Early reports have been issued, in order “to justify a disaster declaration,” according to Billy Penn of FEMA.

Now that President Barack Obama has declared eight counties major disaster areas, FEMA can start making sure Vermonters get the individual assistance they qualify for.

Meanwhile, the counting is over for the time being – even though the tally is “nowhere near complete,” Penn said. There could be hundreds more homes, for example, that sustained significantly more damage.

More accurate numbers will be reported as residents seek assistance from the federal government. So far, Penn said, 2,079 Vermonters had registered with FEMA – about 400 to 500 residents a day are signing up.

FEMA has approved $1,238,200 in direct grants to individuals, Penn said. About 41 people maxed out – or received the maximum amount from the federal government — $30,400.

“That means it’s pretty bad,” Penn said. “They’ve lost lots of stuff, and we’re not able to replace everything.”

Disaster recovery centers have opened in Barre, Brattleboro and Waterbury. Additional centers come online on Wednesday in Dover, Wilmington, Killington and Northfield.

Anne Galloway

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  • Liz Schlegel

    I’m thinking that number might be low, or that we have differing ideas on severely damaged. I can think of 50+ buildings in Waterbury alone without including the mobile home parks.

  • walter carpenter

    I agree Liz. I’ve seen the devastation in Waterbury alone, never mind those places that I have not been able to get to.

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