By Fred Thys
Across the street from the steel barricade in front of the federal building in Montpelier, a group of people took a break in the shade of a tree. They were among the hundreds of cleanup workers brought by their companies to help restore Montpelier into a working city.
“We are doing excellent work,” Naisuliz Ramirez said in Spanish. “We’re getting the water out and cleaning up all that it left behind. It’s hard work.”
Ramirez, who is originally from Venezuela, expected to be working on the federal building for three more months.
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She said the team travels from disaster to disaster. Its last job was in Columbus, Georgia, she said, working on a flooded hotel. She had to break off the interview as the team was called to line up in front of the federal building.
In another shady spot near State Street, another group took a break from cleaning out the basement of a restaurant. Its members were part of a group of 12 who had come from Orlando, Florida. They were originally from Venezuela and Puerto Rico. They had been in Montpelier since Monday and did not know how long they would be in town.
Normally, they stay on a job a month or a month-and-a-half, according to one of the workers, Ana Febres. Laborers are paid $15 an hour, she said, not as well as they would like.
Private businesses, the federal government and the state have all brought in contractors.
For most state-owned buildings, the Vermont state government has hired ServPro to work on the initial phase of the recovery, according to Jennifer Fitch, commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services. That work consists of drying the buildings out, removing debris and decontaminating the buildings. ServPro is a local franchise in Vermont, and it has reached out to franchises in other states to supplement Vermont employees.
Fitch was unable to say how much the contract with ServPro will ultimately cost because it is based on a rate sheet for time and materials, and the rate differs depending on the title of the employee.
She said she did not know how many employees ServPro brought to Montpelier, but at one point, she said, the company told the state it could bring up to 200 people.
Fitch added that the state also hired PuroClean to clean up 120 State St., which houses the Department of Motor Vehicles, and Limelight to clean up 13 Green Mountain Drive, which houses the Department of Liquor Control.
Under another tree near State Street, more workers, these from Ecuador, gathered for some relief from the midday sun and grueling work in the Community National Bank building.
“Hard work,” said Jonathan Echeverria in Spanish. “Lots of debris, water, mud. You get your feet wet.”
They have to carry heavy debris, he said, “but it is work.”
Depending on the job, they are paid between $17 and $20 an hour, Echeverria said.
Echeverria arrived in the United States two months ago, fleeing gang violence in Quito, he said. The crew had come up from New York, where it had been cleaning up after a fire in a New Jersey factory, according to Echeverria. In Vermont, their employer, PuroClean, was renting a house for them in a town half an hour away. He did not remember the name of the town.
They were expecting to be sent back to New York by their employer on Friday.
He said the crew had received a mixed welcome in Montpelier.
“There are people who don’t want Latinos,” he said. Some people distributing food to volunteers told them the food was not for them, he said — only for locals.