Residents review 'devastating' damage as waters recede in Vermont

Residents review ‘devastating’ damage as waters recede in Vermont – CNN.com.

Wilmington, Vermont (CNN) — Ten-foot-high flood waters poured through Eileen Ranslow’s 40-year-old flooring business in Wilmington when Irene struck Vermont over the weekend.

The family business, where revenue has dwindled in the economic downturn, now faces at least $300,000 in damage.

“It’s devastating. It’s devastating,” Ranslow said, her voice cracking.

She is not alone, as the effect of Irene continues to be felt in flood-ravaged communities along the U.S. East Coast.

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.

Flood advisories remained in place Thursday for portions of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia and South Carolina.

The extent of the damage in upstate New York has become more evident in the days since Irene, where the storm battered a cluster of communities 50 miles southwest of Albany.

“There is a lot of damage left to clean up. I know the town of Prattsville has been almost completely condemned,” said Jacob Hubbell of neighboring Margaretville. “Fleischmanns isn’t doing too well either, and main street (in) Margaretville has been closed.”

“It’s safe to say that we probably won’t be back to normal in the Catskills for at least a month.”

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In northern New Jersey, the Passaic River has begun to settle back into its banks, the National Weather Service said. The river is expected to fall below flood stage Thursday morning.

The development will be welcome news in the towns of Wayne, Totowa, Little Falls, Paterson and Woodland Park, where about 1,700 residents were evacuated from their homes this week.

President Barack Obama will travel to Paterson Sunday to view the damage, the White House announced.

The full extent of Irene’s destruction won’t be known for some time. The federal government estimates that the cost from wind damage alone will exceed $1 billion. Analysts have put the total expected cost of Irene much higher.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday the storm also took a toll on agricultural production.

“I had an opportunity to take a look at fields in North Carolina,” he said. “I have never seen anything like it. The corn was just totally destroyed — tobacco hit hard, cotton hit hard.” It remains to be seen how some other crops, such as soybeans and tomatoes, fared, he said, but “it’s very clear that farmers in North Carolina, Virginia, along the East Coast, have suffered pretty significant losses.”

But, he said, it’s unlikely that higher prices will result, as “we have such a diverse agriculture in the United States and we have so many acres planted and so many different crops. I don’t think this is going to affect much of anything.”

The federal government’s tab for the storm could exhaust the $800 million left in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund before the fiscal year ends on September 30.

With conservative House Republicans, led by Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, calling for spending cuts to offset any increase in emergency funds — a measure opposed by many Democrats — the ability of Congress to act quickly on the issue remains uncertain.

Mayor Jeffery Jones of Paterson said he was “outraged” about the funding dispute. “Mother Nature has a mind of her own, a will of her own, and we can’t have the petty wrangling going on when we have folks in dire need,” he said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie echoed those sentiments during a news conference Wednesday, saying, “We don’t have time to wait for folks in Congress to figure out how they want to offset this stuff with the budget cuts. Our people are suffering now. And they need support now.”

More than 1.7 million customers remained without electricity Wednesday from North Carolina to Maine, the U.S. Department of Energy said — a decrease from the 1.8 million reported earlier in the day. Outage figures include more than 366,000 in Connecticut and 314,000 in New York.

Vermont transportation officials made emergency repairs on roads to all but one of about a dozen previously isolated towns, officials said.

Replacing washed-out bridges will take more time.

Air drops were being made to three towns. The National Guard is carrying supplies to other communities, said Mark Bosma, spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management.

Illinois National Guard helicopters are helping with the operation, distributing food, water and medicine to several towns.

Because the repaired roads are intended for emergency and supply delivery traffic, residents will have to wait for more permanent repairs to resume their old driving habits. That is expected to take at least several weeks or months in some cases.

“We’ve transitioned into the recovery stage for the most part,” Bosma said. “The worst is over.”

In Wilmington, Vermont, volunteers from across the state descended on the community to help with the clean-up.

“I couldn’t sit at home. I had to come help,” said Sarah Boisbert, as she worked outside Ranslow’s gutted flooring shop.

Ranslow was touched by the gesture of so many helping hands.

“They’re just people,” she said, pausing. “They’re neighbors and in Vermont we’re all neighbors.”

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