Irene leaves Vermont with "epic" flooding

Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette looks at a collapsed bridge on Route 9 in Woodford, Vt., on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011. AP Photo

MONTPELIER, Vt. - Almost 50,000 Vermont utility customers were without power as the state began to stir late Sunday and assess the damage caused by "epic" flooding left by the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

Flooding on the Winooski River inundated the village of Waterbury, forcing Vermont Emergency Management to move its emergency operations center to Burlington, and briefly consider releasing water from a dam to prevent it from failing.

Flood damage was reported from one end of the state to the other.

The good news is flood waters have begun to recede.

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Green Mountain Power did not have to release water from the Marshfield Dam to prevent the dam from failing. A release from the dam would have raised flood waters downstream.

Emergency Management Spokesman Robert Stirewalt said an estimated 263 roads were closed across the state and at least nine shelters were set up.

Parts of downtown Brattleboro and Bennington were under water, as were several smaller communities. Evacuations were ordered around the state and shelters filled up.

"It's pretty fierce. I've never seen anything like it," said Michelle Guevin, who spoke from a Brattleboro restaurant after being evacuated from her home in the Williamsville section of Newfane. She said her house was high enough to be OK, but the fast-moving Rock River was washing out the road that runs by it.

The capital city issued an ominous warning to residents: "A major emergency is on the horizon in Montpelier and is already occurring in other communities in the region."

A dramatic video posted on Facebook showed an 1870 covered bridge over the Williams River in the Bartonsville section of Rockingham being swept away by rushing water, then disappearing seconds later. In another, an empty car somersaulted down a river in Bennington.

The storm began with rain early in the day, heaviest in the southern part of the state, moving slowing north as the day went on. By late afternoon, officials were reporting roads closed by flooding from Guilford on the Massachusetts line to Derby, which borders Quebec. The Red Cross expected to house 200 people at 10 shelters overnight.

"This is the worst I've ever seen in Vermont," said Mike O'Neil, director of Vermont Emergency Management.

By 6 p.m., much of the state had picked up 4 to 6 inches of rain, with 1 to 2 more inches forecast before it was expected to taper off as the storm exited northern Vermont.

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