AP News

Vt. Irene refugee in tent getting habitat home


WINDSOR, Vt. (AP) — A Windsor man living in a tent almost 14 months after his rented home was destroyed by flooding from Hurricane Irene's remnants should have a home by winter, thanks to the efforts of a Habitat for Humanity chapter that is building him a tiny weather-tight cabin at the crest of a small hill.

Soon-to-be great-grandfather Paul Efstathiou, 61, was living in the Woodstock hamlet of Taftsville when Irene hit last August, submerging equipment for his one-man tree trimming business. He lived by the side of the road for a few days and then he lived in the damaged home.

He's spent 51 nights living in his truck. Relatives had no room for him. Last winter he lived in rented space in Woodstock.

"You start to feel like a stray dog, an unwanted guest," he said. "I'd rather sleep in my truck than be treated the way I was treated."

Since he was a renter, Efstathiou didn't qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said he was reluctant to ask for help, but with winter approaching, he finally relented and last month called the Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity.

"I'm educated. I've been in business for a long time," Efstathiou said. "Everything I own is paid for. It's like, how could I qualify for any help? But what I found out was need is need."

Thousands of homes across Vermont were damaged or destroyed by flooding from Irene when it hit Vermont on Aug. 28 of last year and thousands more were forced from their homes.

Most of them have found places. But a handful, like Efstathiou, are still homeless, state officials say. And still others are likely in temporary situations — renting, living with friends or relatives or living in garages or upper floors of homes that need repair, said Sue Minter, Vermont's Irene long-term recovery officer. More than 250 homes that need rebuilding have been identified and more than 700 survivors are getting help from long-term recovery teams, she said.

For the past year, the Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity has been working with Upper Valley Strong, the regional long-term recovery organization, helping families recover from Irene flooding, said Executive Director Don Derrick.

He said he first heard about Efstathiou last month from a newspaper reporter. He passed on word that if Efstathiou needed help, he'd have to ask for it. And Efstathiou did.

Efstathiou grew up in northeastern Massachusetts and moved to Vermont in 1978 to work in the tree management business. In 1987, he bought the seven-acre parcel where his cabin is being built just west of Interstate 91.

Much of the materials being used to build Efstathiou's cabin came out of other homes Habitat is working on.

On Thursday, Derrick and a handful of other volunteers built the floor. They had four days scheduled, more if needed.

"This is beyond modest; it will go pretty quickly," Derrick said.

At least at first, the 12-foot-by-16-foot cabin won't have electricity or running water, but it will be fully insulated and there will be a composting toilet and a woodstove.

Derrick said his organization is going to get an estimate from the power company to see how much it would cost to run electricity to Efstathiou's cabin and install a septic system.

He could then apply for a grant of up to $20,000 for those projects from the Vermont Disaster Recovery Fund, the privately funded Irene relief group, Derrick said.

"Upper Valley Strong is going to put together a case that this is the best way for him to become un-displaced from Irene, rather than going back to renting to build a place on his own land," Derrick said.


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