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Helicopters rush food, water to cut-off Vt. towns (2nd update)

August 30, 2011
By JOHN CURRAN , Associated Press

NEWFANE, Vt. - National Guard helicopters rushed food and water Tuesday to a dozen cut-off Vermont towns after the rainy remnants of Hurricane Irene washed out roads and bridges in a deluge that took many people in the landlocked New England state by surprise.

"As soon as we can get help, we need help," Liam McKinley said by cellphone from a mountain above the flood-stricken town of Rochester, Vt.

Up to 11 inches of rain from the weekend storm turned placid streams into churning, brown torrents that splintered buildings, knocked homes off their foundations, flattened trees and took giant bites out of the asphalt across the countryside. At least three people died in Vermont.

"I think that people are still a little shell-shocked right now. There's just a lot of disbelief on people's faces. It came through so quickly, and there's so much damage," Gail Devine, director of the Woodstock Recreation Center, said as volunteers moved furniture o ut of the flooded basement and shoveled out thick mud that filled the center's two swimming pools.

As crews raced to repair the roads, the National Guard began flying in supplies to the towns of Cavendish, Granville, Hancock, Killington-Mendon, Marlboro, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Rochester, Stockbridge, Strafford, Stratton and Wardsboro. The Guard also used heavy-duty vehicles to bring relief to flood-stricken communities still reachable by road.

The cut-off towns ranged in population from fewer than 200 (Stratton) to nearly 1,400 (Cavendish).

Fact Box

Hurricane Irene blamed for at least 42 US deaths

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By The Associated Press

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Hurricane Irene has led to the deaths of at least 42 people in 12 states, according to an Associated Press tally. The total is derived from state and local law enforcement agencies, emergency officials and family members.

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CONNECTICUT: 2

- Charlotte Levine, 89, dies in Prospect after fallen power lines set house on fire.

- Shane Seaver, 46, dies in Bristol after canoe capsizes on flooded street.

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DELAWARE: 2

- Christopher Valentine, 25, of Hockessin, and Jean Baptista, 25, of Clark, N.J., die while running outside in Hockessin during the storm. Police don't suspect foul play.

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FLORIDA: 1

- Frederick Fernandez, 55, dies after being tossed off surfboard off New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County.

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MARYLAND: 2

- Won Koo Sung, 48, dies at his Ellicott City home of carbon monoxide poisoning produced by generators.

- Anne Bell, 85, dies in Queen Anne's County when tree falls onto sunroom.

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MASSACHUSETTS: 1

- Richard Gorgone, 52, is electrocuted by downed power lines in Southbridge.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: 1

- Man dies in Wolfeboro after tree falls on him.

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NEW JERSEY: 6

- Michael Kenwood, an emergency medical technician, dies after being knocked over by floodwaters in Princeton.

- Celena Sylvestri, 20, of Quinton, dies in flooded car in Pilesgrove.

- Ronald Dawkins, 47, dies after abandoning his partially submerged vehicle.

- Scott Palecek, 39, dies in Wanaque when pipe breaks and sweeps him away.

- Jorge Hernandez, 25, of Point Pleasant Beach, and another man are found dead in a Manasquan River inlet.

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NEW YORK: 9

- Stephen Terleckey, 72, dies after being swept into Schoharie Creek.

- Rozalia Gluck, 82, of Brooklyn, drowns in a cottage in Fleischmanns.

- A man in his 50s is electrocuted in Spring Valley while trying to help a child in a flooded street.

- Sharon Stein, 68, drowns in a creek in New Scotland while evacuating home.

- Joseph Rocco, 68, of East Islip, drowns while windsurfing in Bellport Bay.

- A man dies after his inflatable boat capsizes on the Croton River.

- Jose Sierra, 68, of the Bronx, dies after falling into a marina.

- Mikita Fox and Danine Swamp, 23, die in Altona after their vehicle plunges off a damaged bridge.

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NORTH CAROLINA: 6

- Katherine Morales Cruz, 15, of Manassas Park, Va., dies in Goldsboro in a collision at intersection where power lights were knocked out.

- Ricky Webb, 63, of the Nashville area, dies after a tree limb falls on him.

- Tim Avery, 50, dies in Ayden after a tree falls on his home.

- Jose Manuel Farabia Corona, 21, of Dover, dies in a Pitt County traffic accident as Irene makes landfall.

- Sabrina Anne Jones, 26, of Clinton, dies in Sampson County when a tree falls on the car she's in.

- Melton Robinson Jr. dies after falling or jumping into the Cape Fear River.

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PENNSYLVANIA: 5

- Michael Scerarko, 44, dies Sunday when a tree fell on him in his yard.

- Walter J. "Gator" Bruder, 59, of Harrisburg, dies when a tree topples onto his camping tent.

- Richard C. Shotwell, 41, of Wilkes-Barre, dies when a tree falls on his camper in Luzerne Country.

- Jason Dahms, 39, of Hellertown, dies in an accident in heavy rain on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Carbon County.

- Patricia O'Neill, 64, of East Norriton, is found dead in the Wissahickon Creek a half-mile from her car.

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VERMONT: 3

- Michael Joseph Garofano, 55, a Rutland city worker, is found dead after checking on water supply in nearby Mendon.

- A woman is found dead in the Deerfield River in Wilmington after falling in while watching the flooding.

- A man is found dead in Lake Rescue in Ludlow.

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VIRGINIA: 4

- Zahir Robinson, 11, dies in Newport News when a tree falls on his home.

- James Blackwell, 67, of Brodnax, dies when a tree falls on a car in Brunswick County.

- A man dies at a Hopewell hospital after a tree falls on a house he's in.

- William P. Washington, 57, dies when a tree falls on him.

"If it's a life-and-death situation, where someone needs to be Medevac-ed or taken to a hospital, we would get a helicopter there to airlift them out, if we could get close to them. A lot of these areas are mountainous areas where there may not be a place to land," said Mark Bosma, a spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management.

There were no immediate reports of anyone rescued by helicopter. But it took a relay operat ion involving two ambulances and an all-terrain vehicle to take a Killington woman in respiratory distress to a hospital in Rutland, about 13 miles away, after floodwaters severed the road between the two communities, Rutland Regional Medical Center President Tom Hubner said. The patient, whose name was not released, was doing fine, he said.

In Rochester, where telephones were out and damage was severe, people could be seen from helicopters standing in line outside a grocery store. McKinley said the town's restaurants and a supermarket were giving food away rather than let it spoil, and townspeople were helping each other.

"We've been fine so far. The worst part is not being able to communicate with the rest of the state and know when people are coming in," he said. He said government agencies did a good job of warning people about the storm. "But here in Vermont, I think we just didn't expect it and didn't prepare for it," he said. "We heard all types of warnings , but I just didn't take it seriously. I thought, how could it happen here?"

Wendy Pratt, another of the few townspeople able to communicate with the outside world, posted an update on Facebook using a generator and a satellite Internet connection. She said the town was devastated and there was no way out. But she also sketched a picture of New England neighborliness.

"People have lost their homes, their belongings, businesses ... the cemetery was flooded and caskets were lost down the river. So many areas of complete devastation," Pratt wrote. "In town there is no cell service or internet service - all phones in town are out. We had a big town meeting at the church at 4 this afternoon to get any updates."

"Mac's opened up at 5 and gave perishables away to anyone who came," she added. "The Huntington House put on a big, free community dinner tonight."

All together, the storm has been blamed for at least 42 deaths in 12 states. More than 2.5 million peo ple from North Carolina to Maine were still without electricity Tuesday, three days after the hurricane churned up the Eastern Seaboard.

While all eyes were on the coast as Irene swirled northward, some of the worst destruction took place well inland, away from the storm's most punishing winds. In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin called it the worst flooding in a century. Small towns in upstate New York - especially in the Catskills and the Adirondacks - were also besieged by floodwaters.

Michael Ricci of Woodstock, Vt., spent Tuesday clearing debris from his backyard along the Ottauquechee River. What had been a meticulously mowed, sloping grass lawn and gorgeous flower beds was now a muddy expanse littered with debris, including wooden boards, propane tanks and a deer hunting target.

"The things we saw go down the river were just incredible," he said. "Sheds, picnic tables, propane tanks, furnaces, refrigerators. We weren't prepared for that. We had prepared fo r wind and what we ended up with was more water than I could possibly, possibly have imagined." He said the water in the yard was almost up to the house, or about 15 to 20 feet above normal.

He added: "The force of it was beyond our comprehension."

Vermont emergency officials and the National Weather Service warned before the storm about the potential for heavy rain and flooding. On Thursday, Shumlin recommended stocking up on enough food, water and other supplies to last three days.

On Monday, he defended his state's decision not to undertake extensive evacuations before the storm arrived, noting that it was too hard to predict which communities were in danger. "What are you going to do, evacuate the entire state of Vermont?" he asked.

Approximately 260 roads in Vermont were closed because of storm damage, along with about 30 highway bridges. Vermont Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter said the infrastructure damage was in the hundreds of milli ons of dollars.

Relief supplies arrived at Vermont's National Guard headquarters early Tuesday in a convoy of 30 trucks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Accompanied by Shumlin, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate toured the state by helicopter Tuesday to survey the damage.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore along the Outer Banks on Saturday before heading for New York and New England, Gov. Beverly Perdue said the hurricane destroyed more than 1,100 homes and caused at least $70 million in damage.

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

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at news conference in North Carolina that s he was unaware of anything federal authorities should have done differently in Vermont. She said FEMA and its state counterpart worked closely together, and she noted that after the state agency operations center got flooded out, it moved into FEMA's quarters.

William "Breck" Bowden, an expert on Vermont's watershed at the University of Vermont, attributed the disaster to a combination of factors: The soil was wet, Vermont's steep hills quickly fed the rainfall into streams, and the storm dumped a huge amount of water.

"There was plenty of warning being given about the coming storm by the meteorological community and the news media," he said. "The real issues are the enormous damage to our infrastructure. That's nothing an evacuation could have done anything about."

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Woodstock, Vt., Wilson Ring and Dave Gram in Montpelier, and Michael Gormley in Albany, N.Y.

 
 

 

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