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Airlifts planned to supply cutoff Vt. towns

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NEWFANE, Vt. (AP) — Vermont began mobilizing National Guard helicopters to airlift food, water and supplies Tuesday to small towns cut off by flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

Emergency Management spokesman Mark Bosma said the helicopters would head to about a dozen towns where roads and bridges were washed out, including Cavendish, Hancock, Pittsfield, Stockbridge, Strafford and Stratton. Officials also planned to use heavy-duty National Guard vehicles to reach towns where roads may be passable.

The relief supplies arrived at National Guard headquarters early Tuesday in a convoy of 30 trucks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In a deluge that caught many communities off guard, Irene dumped up to 11 inches of rain in some places in Vermont, turning placid mountain streams into roaring brown torrents that smashed buildings and ripped homes from their foundations. At least three people died in Vermont.

Small towns in upstate New York — especially in the Catskills and the Adirondacks — also were besieged by floodwaters.

Altogether, more than 2.5 million people from North Carolina to Maine were still without electricity Tuesday, three days after the hurricane churned up the Eastern Seaboard.

The storm has been blamed for at least 40 deaths in 11 states. And while all eyes were on the coast as Irene churned northward, some of the worst destruction took place well inland, away from the storm's most punishing winds. In landlocked Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, called it the worst flooding in a century.

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

Rivers of rainwater coursed down their hill. Just below their home deep in the woods, the Rock River rose up out of its banks, too, claiming another road.

"Stranded, nowhere to go," said Martin Saylor, 57, standing by the Rock River on Monday as he waited 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."

Approximately 260 roads in Vermont were closed because of storm damage, along with about 30 highway bridges.

"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."

Mr. Shumlin defended his state's decision not to undertake more extensive evacuations before the storm arrived.

"What are you going to do, evacuate the entire state of Vermont?'' Mr. Shumlin asked. He added: "You can see one community that looks like it didn't get hit at all, and two miles down the road a community that is totally devastated. And obviously there's no one that can predict which community, where, why or how."

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. Amtrak service was still out Tuesday between Philadelphia and New York, one of the most heavily traveled parts of the nation's passenger rail system. Some Amtrak trains were operating between New York and Boston and between Philadelphia and Washington.

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 simply had 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 with the overall U.S. economy, which produces about $14 trillion worth of goods and services every year.

In Newfane (population 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 was smashed into kindling wood.

"I need a shower," Mrs. Saylor said. "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, Vt.; 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.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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