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Crews reach far corners of Vermont cut off by Irene

By Phil Gast, CNN
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Stranded in Vermont
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Crews reach final stranded town
  • National Guard helicopters drop supplies to several towns
  • One town held a barbecue to show solidarity

(CNN) -- Sandra Manzke paused a moment as an ATV whizzed by her small farm in Wardsboro, Vermont.

With no hot water or electricity, Manzke took stock of her situation Wednesday, three days after the remnants of Hurricane Irene left the town largely marooned.

She had a generator. Her two horses were alive. Eight inches of water in the basement was mostly gone.

"I am lucky," she told CNN by phone. "There are people with houses in the water. They've lost everything."

Irene killed 43 people from Florida to New England as it marched up the Eastern Seaboard over the weekend, dumping torrential rain. Some of the worst flooding struck Vermont, New Jersey and upstate New York.

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Roughly 1 million customers remain without electricity from North Carolina to Maine, the U.S. Department of Energy said.

Vermont transportation officials made emergency road repairs to more than a dozen previously isolated towns, officials said.

Officials opened a makeshift road to Wardsboro, the last of them, late Wednesday. Many people in the community of about 900 could not leave their property because of road damage, Manzke said.

Vermont National Guard helicopters were flying water, food, diapers, baby formula, blankets and cots to other towns where residents can't safely get in or out.

About 12,000 customers remained without power Wednesday after the catastrophic flooding. Grocery stores and residents gave away food when their freezers no longer had electricity.

Helicopters made drops Tuesday and Wednesday, said the Rev. Howard Gunter, pastor of Pittsfield Federated Church in central Vermont.

"People are remaining calm," Gunter said. "We're encouraged to take of yourself and take care of your neighbor."

The town near the ski area of Killington may be without power for several weeks. That means no Internet service.

"I am fine," the pastor said of the inconveniences. "My wife and I were missionaries in a number of Third World countries."

At one point, more than 250 roads were closed in Vermont.

"Everyone wants the roads rebuilt," said Mark Bosma, spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management. "It gets you to a grocery store in another town."

But it will take weeks -- months in some places -- for roads to be fully repaired. Officials are telling residents to stay off the temporary roads as much as possible.

"All of these roads are extremely rough and intended for emergency vehicles and National Guard delivery vehicles only," the state said. "Please stay off the roads unless you have an emergency. This will help speed up permanent repairs."

Replacing washed-out bridges will take more time.

Nora Wilson, town clerk in Marlboro, said some motorists are inhibiting repairs by getting on roads targeted by repair crews.

"Essentially, we're still cut off," Wilson said. "Some people are not back in their homes yet."

Officials and residents in the town of 1,700 have checked in on each other. Most had electricity as of Wednesday, according to Wilson.

Accustomed to snow storms and bad weather, many Marlboro residents previously stocked up on food and other supplies.

Pittsfield, population 427, reacted in its own special way to severe flooding.

Residents had a town barbecue Tuesday.

"No one in this town was expecting the flooding to be what it was, and we've all gotta eat," said Jason Evans, the owner of the skiing enclave's popular Clear River Tavern.

Todd Trzaskos of Gaysville, east of Pittsfield, told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night that people meet at the end of a bridge to get updates on conditions.

Farmers with front-loaders are clearing roads and neighbors are checking in on each other and helping others leave unsafe houses, he said.

In Wilmington, near the Green Mountain National Forest in southwest Vermont, consignment shop co-owners Suzette Kingman and Kathy Costello were able to salvage some items -- and a mannequin.

"Gucci pants that were like butter," Costello said. "Now they are like mud."

Not insured, the operators of the Fashion Plate say their landlord will repair the building.

Manzke said the flooding has done severe damage to aging road infrastructure and culverts in and around Wardsboro. Proper long-term repairs are needed, she said.

The part-time Florida resident also is concerned about Vermonters being able to get to work, or having enough options available, when the leaf-peepers and skiers arrive later this year.

Still, Vermonters have come together this week.

"These are really small towns," Bosma said. "Everybody knows everybody."

The Rev. Pete Carlson, who oversees three congregations in Wardsboro, said he saw a house perched over a river, "just hanging on."

He saw several tree company and utility trucks in the area Wednesday night.

"I am amazed at the amount of work that's been done in three days," Carlson said. "These guys are working night and day."

The town, which has a lumber mill, is made up of hard-working people, he said. The churches have no committees, "but everything gets done."

"There is a remarkable group of folks over there," said the Connecticut native.

CNN's Ashley Fantz and Amber Lyon contributed to this report.

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