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Vermont's misery continues as flooding isolates communities

By Ed Payne, CNN
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Flooding in Vermont
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many parts of the state remain under flood advisories
  • Flood waters have cut off several communities in the state
  • President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration
  • Officials say three people have died as a result of the storm

Burlington, Vermont (CNN) -- Residents of Vermont know their work is cut out for them as they struggle for normalcy after enduring the wrath of Irene.

The landlocked rural state saw fast-moving floods spawned by the storm swarm towns from Brattleboro to Woodstock.

"It's heartbreaking to see your home and home state destroyed -- and seeing places and landmarks that you can recognize even from early childhood now destroyed by flooding," said Ryan Ritter who lives in Rutland near the state's border with New York.

There was no way in or out of his town, the 20-year-old Ritter said.

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The story was much the same in the southern town of Wilmington. Cut off on several sides, the Vermont National Guard had to travel through neighboring Massachusetts to get rescue crews to the small, cut-off community.

"Irene hit us hard. A lot of businesses were destroyed. Loss of property -- roads, bridges, homes washed away," said Rachel Lazelle. "It is going to take a long time to rebuild."

On Tuesday, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate planned to tour flooded communities in the state. A day earlier, President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration, allowing federal aid to the state.

"It's just devastating," Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday. "Whole communities under water, businesses, homes, obviously roads and bridges, rail transportation infrastructure," he said. "We're tough folks up here but Irene ... really hit us hard."

Three deaths had been confirmed as a result of the storm.

Hundreds of people remained trapped in communities cut off by raging floodwaters that washed out or otherwise damaged 263 roads and bridges, Shumlin said. Exactly how many were stranded remained unclear, he said, because it's difficult to get into many communities.

The governor described conditions as "probably the toughest flooding that we've seen in the state of Vermont in our history."

Normally tranquil streams poured through city streets and thrashed against buildings and bridges, including some of the state's iconic covered bridges. Four to six of the covered bridges were destroyed in the flooding, officials said.

Even the state emergency management headquarters in Waterbury was flooded, forcing officials to evacuate to Burlington, about 20 miles away.

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RELATED TOPICS
  • Vermont
  • Brattleboro
  • Wilmington

Many areas of the state remained under flood watches and warnings early Tuesday, with the National Weather Service reporting continued record flooding in some locations.

Unlike many states, Vermont did not order or suggest evacuations. Many of the state's towns are in lowlands and there are few large areas of dry land, so large-scale evacuations are impractical, Shumlin said.

Marc Leibowitz, a New Yorker, knew the threat Irene posed for his home state. But he didn't think he'd feel its effects in Vermont where his friends and family had arrived over the weekend for his wedding.

"My friends were telling me, 'This is awesome! You got us out of New York for the weekend," Leibowitz said.

Now, they are stranded in Pittsfield in central Vermont, with no roads to get them out.

"We are making the best of things," he said. But he is also keeping an eye on the calendar and his fingers crossed.

He is really looking forward to his honeymoon Thursday.

CNN's Stephanie Gallman and iReport's Christina Zdanowicz and Carly Costello contributed to this report.

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