Storm Irene batters Vermont state, forces evacuations
* Vermont flooding prompts evacuations, power outages
* Officials bracing for dam failures in the Berkshires
* Power out in parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts
By Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Toni Clarke
BOSTON, Aug 29 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Irene battered Vermont state with heavy rains late on Sunday, forcing hundreds of evacuations even as the storm's winds lost strength.
Vermont, the furthest west of the New England states, is also one of the greenest, filled with waterways that contribute to its lush scenery. Those waterways overflowed on Sunday.
Some 40,000 to 50,000 people were left without power, flash-flooding hit some towns and many roads were blocked.
"It's very serious for us at the moment in Vermont. The top two-thirds of the state are inundated with rapidly rising waters, which we anticipate will be an issue for the next 24 hours," said Robert Stirewalt, a spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management Agency.
In Brattleboro, in the southern part of the state, 60 people were evacuated to shelters and more were expected.
"Right now, evacuation is our main issue," Stirewalt said.
Elsewhere in New England, the damage from Irene was less than many had feared but officials reported flooded roadways, trees downed over rail tracks and evacuations in some towns. Normally sandy beaches jammed with people were deserted rock fields churned up by the sea.
Authorities braced for dam failures in the Berkshires because of the heavy rains and were concerned about the next tide cycle, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said.
Hurricane Irene was downgraded first to a tropical storm and then to a post-tropical cyclone as it hit New York, flooding waterfronts and low-lying areas, and then churned north through New England.
The storm left 650,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts without electricity, officials said.
Few people were able to move around. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority suspended service and Amtrak halted all rail service in the northeast.
"We've been telling staff that when they come in they may have to stay beyond the end of their shift, or overnight," said Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency management at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Boston's Logan International Airport was open even though all but two airlines had canceled all flights, airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said.
Restaurants that normally do brisk business for brunch on Sunday were shut. "I'm the only one here and I'm just here to answer the phone and say we are closed," said Mario Detina at Anthony's Pier 4, a Boston seafood restaurant. (Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Toni Clarke; Editing by Kieran Murray and Christopher Wilson)
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