National Guard helicopters rushed food and water Tuesday to a dozen cut-off Vermont towns after the rainy remnants of Tropical Storm Irene washed out roads and bridges in a deluge that took many people in the landlocked state by surprise.
"As soon as we can get help, we need help," Liam McKinley said by cellphone from a mountain above flooded Rochester.
Up to 11 inches of rain from the weekend storm turned placid streams into churning torrents that 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, while nine died in New York State. The total death toll blamed on the storm, which began as a hurricane, rose to 44 across 13 states.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo requested an expedited major disaster declaration from the federal government to help pay for preparation and cleanup. He said preliminary estimates show damage far exceeds the $25 million threshold. Federal officials toured upstate by air and acknowledged the devastation but hadn't made a decision on aid.
As crews raced to repair roads in Vermont, the 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.
In Rochester, where phones were out and damage was severe, people were 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 residents were helping one another.
"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. "I thought, how could it happen here?"
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin called it the worst flooding in a century.
About 260 roads were closed due to storm damage, along with 30 highway bridges. Vermont Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter said infrastructure damage was in the hundreds of millions of dollars.