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On The Fifth Anniversary Of Irene, One Couple Still Feels The Storm's Effects

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Melody Bodette
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VPR file
Five years ago, John and Beth Graham-Frock's home was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene. In the years following the storm, they faced personal and financial challenges, including having to continue to pay the mortgage on their destroyed house.

Five years ago, John and Beth Graham-Frock of Rochester lost their home after Tropical Storm Irene caused a small brook next to their house to overflow, taking out the foundation.

The family of four struggled financially when their bank refused to let them stop their mortgage payments, even though the house was destroyed. John and Beth both had to take on extra work to make the mortgage payments, and after three years they settled a legal battle over the issue.

Now, Beth works at Rochester Cafe and John is a book editor and language translator.

VPR spoke with Beth and John on the fifth anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, as they reflect on their experiences since the storm.

Take us back to that what happened five years ago when the house started to fall.

John: We knew that house was going to go, but I didn't think it was imminent. We'd gone back in to get the cats and [the] last cat we just couldn't find it and all of a sudden he popped out of nowhere. Beth couldn’t even get him in the cat carrier, [so] she just flatten him to her chest and went running out.

I was on her heels and I looked over and I saw this bag that put together all our insurance paper, passports, all of that stuff.  So I leaned over to pick it up and all of a sudden there's like gunshots. The beams [were] breaking and the house just fell over.

Luckily the bookcase in the hall had fallen at an angle and hit the brick wall that was by the fireplace, so it provided a ceiling that kept all the rubble from burying me. I still thought this was it, because I could feel the water coming up.

I didn't panic; it was like I just sort of accepted it. Our neighbor was there outside and he was asking if I was alright and that was what allowed me to orient myself so that I could crawl up the hallway and get out.

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Credit Toby Talbot / Associated Press
The Graham-Frock's house collapsed after rain caused the brook next to their house to overflow and damage the foundation.

What is the fifth anniversary going to be like for you?

Beth: I don't know. We still go over there [to the house]. Some days I'm just over to the old house.

John: And this year the town is putting on a five year anniversary to celebrate the volunteerism that was also a huge part of the aftermath of Irene. So they're going to have a potluck and a number of things in the park. I think it's great, but at the same time, I don't know how I'm going to feel, if it’s going to bring up unpleasant memories or if I can just enjoy it.

"Our town, they were amazing, and they deserve to celebrate what they did. They totally deserve that ... But we don't know what we're going to feel on that day." - Beth Frock-Graham

Beth: Our town, they were amazing, and they deserve to celebrate what they did. They totally deserve that and I think it's great that they're doing it. But we don't know what we're going to feel on that day. We've been saying that for a couple of weeks now.

Do you feel somewhat lucky about the fact that this did happen in Rochester, where the community support was so strong?

John: It would have been a totally different experience if we didn’t have that ongoing support from the very start. People showed up to just help us salvage what we could out of the wreckage. In a way, it was lucky we were blocked off from the rest of the world, because the emergency management people couldn't get down and quarantine the house as soon as they got there.

Beth: The town organized that and put groups together. It was amazing what got done in a short period of time just by somebody taking the lead and just rallying everybody. And people were willing – they were so willing, it was incredible.

Finally, five years after, how are you?

John: I'm feeling better than I did then. I'm keeping busy, I feel good about the way things are going. I've been busy with work but I'm also writing and I've had stuff published.

Beth: I'm doing alright, just alright. Not great, not terrible. Like John was saying, my creative energy was gone, but now I've been thinking about it a lot, just go back there to that place, find that spot again. So, I'm trying.

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