Irene: Flooding Cuts Off Towns in Vermont, New York

Vermont is experiencing its worst flooding since 1927.

August 29, 2011, 4:43 AM

Aug. 29, 2011— -- Hurricane Irene may be gone but Vermont is the latest state to deal with her fury, as a dozen towns have been cut off from the outside world because of flooding that has knocked out bridges and destroyed roadways.

At least two people are dead and one is missing in Vermont in the worst flooding the state has seen in 84 years, which has the governor calling for "all the help we can get."

The death toll for the country from Irene's three-day rampage up the coast now stands at 40, after more bodies were found as floodwaters receded and searchers gained access to damaged buildings.

Hurricane Irene's last gasp caused catastrophic flooding in the mountainous state, the worst deluge the state has endured since 1927. It washed away roads, homes, bridges and the state's emergency operations center.

"We've seen so many heartbreaking stories," Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said today. "We need all the help we can get."

Federal officials, including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate, are scheduled to travel to Vermont Tuesday to survey the devastation left by the storm that churned through the state Sunday.

The storm dumped as much as 11 inches of rain on parts of the state, where rivers were already high from a wet summer and heavy snowfalls last winter.

Among the deaths in Vermont was a young woman who died Sunday in the town of Wilmington when her car was engulfed by the Deerfield River.

The river's rapidly rising waters has devastated the town, select board member Meg Streeter said.

"We have no operating water and sewer system in the center of the village," she said. "We have structural engineers and inspectors going through every building in town right now to see which are structurally sound, so several have been condemned already."

A man believed to have been inspecting the water system in the town of Rutland was also killed, according to Mark Bosma, a spokesman for Vermont's Emergency Operations Center. Another man who was also inspecting the water system is still missing.

All state offices are closed and the National Guard has deployed six rapid response teams.

"This event unfolded much faster than anyone anticipated," Vermont National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow said.

President Obama signed an emergency declaration for Vermont this morning.

"We're continuing to deal with the impact and the aftermath of Hurricane Irene," Obama said. "We're going to make sure folks have all the support they need as they begin to assess and repair the damage left by the storm."

New York City clanked back to life as its train, buses and airports slowly returned to service, and communities from North Carolina to Vermont are toting up the damage, which is believed to be in the billions of dollars, making it the tenth billion dollar storm of 2011.

More than 5 million people along the East Coast were without power Monday.

The cost of paying for Irene has forced the federal government's strapped Disaster Relief Fund to divert money meant for tornado victims in Joplin, Mo. A spokesman for Federal Emergency Management Agency told The Associated Press today that Congress will have to vote for more money to restore full funding for Joplin.

Peter Banacos at the National Weather Service said rivers across Vermont and northern New York will gradually subside, but in the meantime there were problems across New England and the Catskill region of New York.

In Prattsville, N.Y., 21 people were trapped in a hotel as floodwaters surrounded the building. The group reportedly included two pregnant women, seven toddlers and three babies.

According to Dan King at the Greene County Office of Emergency Management, the New York National Guard plucked the people from the water-logged hotel and took them to a shelter, but some still remained early today.

"The water is receding on the mountaintop. The last several people who needed to be extracted from homes that had been blocked from water actually walked out. There are still some people who are isolated in their homes. They cannot get out," he said.

Just east of the town of Prattsville, the town of Windham, N.Y., was "wiped out" by flooding, with four feet of water rushing through Main Street, said Michael Scarey, the town's fire chief.

Hammering rains that started Saturday night dumped more than 10 inches of water on the village, forcing evacuations, submerging school buses and garages and shutting off access to the rest of the mountaintop.

New York City was virtually shut down over the weekend for fear that Irene would be a killer storm. The city ducked the worst that Irene had to offer, but struggled today with a morning rush hour with limited subway and commuter rail service.

City's airports were back in business today, and Atlantic City's casinos were quick to resume gambling.

In Philadelphia, perhaps the worst-hit city, the storm dumped 5.7 inches of rain within 18 hours -- more than the area usually gets in a month. On Sunday the Schuylkill River, which runs straight through Philadelphia, crested at its highest level since 1869, flooding homes and businesses.

In a statement from the White House Sunday afternoon, Obama warned of the long recovery in Hurricane Irene's aftermath.

"This is not over," Obama said, urging residents to comply with local authorities. "The impacts of this storm will be felt for some time. And the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer."

The Associate Press contributed to this report.

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