- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 30, 2011

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 battered 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.

As crews raced to repair the estimated260 roads closed by storm damage in the state, 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 National 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).

“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,” said Mark Bosma, a spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management.

In Rochester, where telephones were out and damage was severe, people could be seen from helicopters standing in line outside a grocery store. Mr. 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 lauded government agencies for doing 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?”

Altogether, the storm has been blamed for at least 44 deaths in 13 states. 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.

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

Vermont emergency officials and the National Weather Service warned before the storm about the potential for heavy rain and flooding. On Thursday, Mr. 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.

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 Mr. 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.

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