BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The signs of recovery from Tropical Storm Irene are sometimes small and often spread out, but Vermont is steadily making progress, state and federal officials said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved nearly $11 million in aid to Vermonters for housing and other needs assistance, and more than 4,500 residents have registered for aid in the two weeks since the disaster.
"The efforts of local and state workers supported by the FEMA team are starting to pay off," said Federal Coordinating Officer Craig Gilbert, who is leading FEMA's efforts in Vermont. "Together we are making a difference in people's lives."
While there are still closed roads and wrecked homes visible in some areas of Vermont, other places are starting to see progress toward normal life returning.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation on Wednesday announced it had re-opened three bridges along Route 12A in Roxbury to restore travel routes in that area.
According to the agency, of the 139 stretches of state routes closed after Irene struck, 124 have reopened, although some are only open to emergency vehicles, one lane, or to varying levels of service. Of 34 state bridges that were closed, 13 have reopened.
"Our priority has been to restore our transportation routes, not only to provide access for emergency vehicles and residents, but to help Vermont's economy rebound," said Vermont Emergency Management Director Mike O'Neil. "With foliage season rapidly approaching, to say nothing of winter, we know that getting the roads fixed is critical."
Getting residents assistance to repair their homes before winter sets in has also been a priority for state and federal officials.
FEMA has 17 inspectors in the field and nearly 2,600 property inspections to document disaster damage have been completed. The turnaround time for applicants to receive inspections is just over two days.
Other assistance may include disaster unemployment insurance for Vermonters whose jobs were permanently or temporarily lost due to the flooding. Anyone who lost work and lived, worked, or was scheduled to work in a county that has received a federal disaster designation may apply for benefits by calling the Vermont Department of Labor's Claim Assistance Line at 1-877-214-3330.
Ten disaster recovery centers where Vermonters can meet face-to-face with representatives from FEMA and other local, state, and federal entities are currently open around the state, and more than 1,300 visits have been made to them. You do not have to visit a recovery center to register for FEMA assistance, but if you would like to meet with a recovery representative, you can visit www.fema.gov/drclocator for a center in your area.
"We have nearly 100 Community Relations people in the field, going door-to-door and meeting with Vermonters," Gilbert said. "We are here for the long haul, and we are going to do everything we can to ensure that all Vermonters who are eligible get all the assistance they are qualified to receive."
FEMA's individual assistance program may include aid for affected families and individuals to cover uninsured expenses for temporary housing, home repairs, replacement of damaged personal property and other disaster-related needs, such as medical, dental or transportation costs. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers low-interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters and businesses to repair or replace damaged property.
The SBA has issued more than 4,000 loan applications, and residents who receive a packet from the U.S. Small Business Administration after registering with FEMA should fill this out and return it.
SBA loans are not just for small businesses -- they also offer low-interest disaster loans for homeowners and renters. No one is obligated to take out a loan, but completing the app...