* Three dead, one missing after storm
* State starts cleanup, loss of power could last days
* Governor closes state offices, says stay off the roads
* Historic covered bridges wiped out
* Most rivers have crested, remain above flood stage
(Updates death toll, adds quotes, updates with most rivers
having peaked, changes dateline from Brattleboro)
By Scott Malone
WILMINGTON, Vt., Aug 29 Vermont residents
surveyed washed out roads, swept-away bridges and destroyed
homes and businesses on Monday after a weakened Hurricane Irene
brought the state's worst flooding in 80 years.
Three people were killed in flooding kicked off by the
storm's heavy rains and one remained missing, state authorities
said. Several of the state's historic covered bridges, as well
as more modern structures, were washed away in rain-swollen
Irene had been reduced to tropical storm status by the time
it reached Vermont but still dumped a near record 7 inches of
rain. Officials called the flooding catastrophic and said it
was the state's worst natural disaster since floods in 1927.
Governor Peter Shumlin and Senator Patrick Leahy toured the
devastation by helicopter and in cars. Crews spread out around
the state to begin clearing downed trees, restoring power and
On Monday, the land-locked New England state, known for its
ski resorts and back-to-the-land vibe, received a federal
disaster declaration from Washington, ensuring access to
federal money to help clean up. Vermont is one of the states
least insured for floods.
"I keep being somewhat disappointed by some of the national
press that think because Manhattan wasn't hit, everything is
fine. We're not Manhattan, but we have human lives here in
Vermont, too," Shumlin said, calling the storm's damage
shocking and devastating.
He and Leahy surveyed the Whetstone Studio for the Arts in
Brattleboro, an artsy community of 12,000, along the
Connecticut River. Gushing water ate away at the building and
left its second floor dangling precariously over the flood.
By late Monday most of the state's rivers had crested, but
were expected to remain above flood stage through at least
Tuesday, said William Hanley, a meteorologist with the National
Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont.
Officials warned some of the 50,000 energy customers still
without power might have to wait several days for electricity
to come back on. [ID:nN1E77S01P]
Three bodies had been found in waterways near Ludlow,
Mendon and Dover and one person remained missing near Mendon,
said Mark Bosma, a spokesman for the Vermont Division of
LEAF SEASON LOST FOR SOME BUSINESSES?
In the state's south, downtown Wilmington, Vermont, was
cordoned off by police and military units after the Deerfield
Valley river ravaged the town, rising a full foot above the
line on town hall marking its previous record flood in 1938.
Andrea Berg, owner of the Picknell's Barn gift shop, was
allowed a brief trip into the evacuated downtown to visit her
damaged store. "The store's destroyed," said Berg, toting two
bags holding salvaged stuffed animals and bottles of wine.
The timing could not be worse for a business that was
ramping up for the fall foliage season, when tourist traffic
rises sharply in the leafy state. "We had been up 28 percent
for the year too," Berg said.
SWIMMING TO RESCUE CAT
By Monday morning, residents were detailing their misery.
Kevin Putnam, 45, was busy pumping out the basement of his
parents' home, after the floodwaters rose almost to their
first-floor windows. "It was scary, there were giant boulders
bouncing down the brook," Putnam said.
After evacuating his parents from the home on Sunday, he
returned to save their 15-year-old cat, Sophie, swimming across
the backyard to do so. "She's the meanest cat ever, but I had
to do it," Putnam said.
State offices, businesses and many schools were closed and
officials urged residents to stay off the state's storm-damaged
roads. Emergency crews were headed to the worst hit areas in
Rutland and Addison counties in the south and middle of the
Hurricane Irene started its sweep up the eastern seaboard
in North Carolina on Saturday, and appeared to have inflicted
the greatest damage inland with its heavy rains in western
Massachusetts and Vermont.
Overnight, nearly 300 roads in Vermont -- including
interstate highways Routes 89 and 91 -- was closed down at some
point because of flooding or downed trees, the emergency
management agency noted.
"When I first walked through here last night, it was like a
war zone, there were people in shock, who had lost everything,"
said Rev. Emily Heath, of Wilmington Congregational Church.
She spent much of her day on the steps of the church,
located within the town's cordoned-off zone, giving water and
solace to the few property owners authorities allowed in to
survey the damage. "We're in the hope business," she said.
(Additional reporting by Toni Clarke and Lauren Keiper in
Boston; Mike Miller in Vermont, Ben Berkowitz in New York.
Writing by Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Editing by Jackie Frank and