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Killer storm leaves Vt. homeowners, towns stranded


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LAST UPDATED: 06:03 a.m. HST, Aug 30, 2011


NEWFANE, Vt. » Flooding isolated entire towns in Vermont and New York, some communities warily watched swollen rivers and more than a million people from Virginia to Maine lacked electricity Tuesday, three days after Hurricane Irene churned up the Eastern Seaboard.

The storm has been blamed for at least 40 deaths in 11 states.

Commuters in New York City and New Jersey got back to their workday routines Tuesday as most train service resumed.

When Hurricane Irene unleashed its wrath on Newfane, Vt., Martin and Sue Saylor were among the lucky ones. All they lost was the road to their hillside home, and their utilities.

The Saylors survived, but at a cost: Rivers of rainwater coursed down their hill, washing out the road that leads to their road. Just below their home deep in the woods, the Rock River rose up out of its banks, claiming another roadway.

Suddenly, the Saylors' feet became their sole transportation.

"Stranded, nowhere to go," said Martin Saylor, 57, standing by the Rock River on Monday, waiting for his brother to bring in supplies. "Don't want to leave my house because I don't know who's going to break in or whatever. I just don't know what to do."

The capricious storm, which veered into Vermont in its final hours, dumped up to 11 inches of rain in some places and turned placid little mountain streams into roaring brown torrents that smashed buildings, ripped homes from their foundation and washed out roads all across the state.

Some Vermont rivers still haven't reached their peak.

On Monday, the Otter Creek at Rutland was still more than three feet above flood stage, and meteorologist Andrew Loconto said projections are the river won't drop below flood stage until Wednesday.

At least three people died in Vermont.

In New York City, where people had braced for a disaster-movie scene of water swirling around skyscrapers, the subways and buses were up and running again in time for the Monday morning commute. And to the surprise of many New Yorkers, things went pretty smoothly.

Power outages were still widespread from north to south on Tuesday, with utilities from Virginia to Maine reporting well over a million customers without electricity.

By Tuesday, a majority of riders on the hard-hit Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad were able to get onto trains. Only three of the LIRR lines were still suspended, covering the eastern end of the Long Island.

The 11-state death toll, which had stood at 21 as of Sunday night, rose sharply as bodies were pulled from floodwaters and people were electrocuted by downed power lines.

An apparently vacant home exploded in an evacuated, flooded area in Pompton Lakes, N.J., early Monday, and firefighters had to battle the flames from a boat. In the Albany, N.Y., suburb of Guilderland, police rescued two people Monday after their car was swept away. Rescuers found them three hours later, clinging to trees along the swollen creek.

"It's going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude," President Barack Obama warned as he promised the government would do everything in its power to help people get back on their feet.

In North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore along the Outer Banks on Saturday before heading for New York and New England, 1,000 people were still in emergency shelters, awaiting word on their homes.

Airlines said it would be days before the thousands of passengers stranded by Irene find their way home. Some Amtrak service in the Northeast was limited or suspended. Commuter train service between New Jersey and New York City resumed Tuesday, except for one line that was still dealing with flooding.

Throughout the region, hundreds of roads were impassable because of flooding or fallen trees, and some bridges had simply given way, including a 156-year-old hand-hewn, wooden covered bridge across Schoharie Creek in Blenheim, N.Y.

At least three towns in New York remained cut off by flooded roads and bridges.

Early estimates put Irene's damage at $7 billion to $10 billion, much smaller than the impact of monster storms such as Hurricane Katrina, which did more than $100 billion in damage. Irene's effects are small compared to the overall U.S. economy, which produces about $14 trillion worth of goods and services every year.

While people without electric power waited for the lights to come back on and communities from New York to Maine took stock of the storm, homeowners and towns in land-locked Vermont faced a sobering new reality — no way in or out. Washed-out roads and bridges left them — for now — inaccessible by automobile.

"We always had that truism that said 'Yup, yah can't get there from here.' In fact, that's come to pass down here," said Newfane Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli. "There are certain pockets where you can't get there from here, at least not by a car."

About a dozen towns and an unknown number of homes were cut off by damage from Irene's floodwaters and rain, including that of the town's emergency management coordinator, David Moore. State transportation maintenance crews and contractors hired by the state were working to restore travel on some of the 260 roads that had been closed due to storm damage. Vermont also had 30 highway bridges closed.

In small Newfane (pop. 1,710), the storm's effects were staggering: About 150 people were unable to drive cars to their homes, 30 of them effectively stranded in theirs, seven bridges were washed out, two homes were knocked from their foundations by surging floodwaters and one 19th century grist mill smashed into kindling wood right where it stood.

Gov. Peter Shumlin called it the worst flooding in a century.

For the Saylors, there were more immediate concerns.

"I need a shower," said Sue Saylor. "I need water. I need electricity. It's rough."

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers John Christoffersen in East Haven, Conn.; Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh; Michael Gormley in Albany, N.Y.; Michael Hill in Woodstock, N.Y.; David Porter in Pompton Lakes, N.J.; Michael Rubinkam in Easton, Pa.; Erika Niedowski in Providence, R.I.; Laura Crimaldi in Cranston, R.I.; Dave Gram in Montpelier; and Samantha Bomkamp, Eileen A.J. Connelly, Anne D'Innocenzio, Verena Dobnik, Jon Fahey, Chris Kahn, Karen Matthews, Jennifer Peltz, Christina Rexrode and Karen Zraick in New York City.






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