Live

Watch CBSN Live

Irene still leaves many cut off, powerless

NEWFANE, Vt. - Entire towns in Vermont and New York remained cut off by flooding, some communities were still warily watching swollen rivers and millions of people from Virginia to Maine had no electricity on Tuesday, three days after Hurricane Irene slammed into the Eastern Seaboard.

The storm has been blamed for at least 40 deaths in 12 states.

Commuters in New York City and New Jersey got back to their workday routines Tuesday, as most train service resumed.

When Hurricane Irene unleashed its wrath on Newfane, Vt., Martin and Sue Saylor were among the lucky ones. All they lost was the road to their hillside home, and their utilities.

Irene death toll hits 40; Flooding endures
Virginia boy, Florida surfer among Irene deaths
Complete CBS News Coverage: Hurricane Irene

The Saylors survived, but at a cost: Rivers of rainwater coursed down their hill, washing out the road that leads to their road. Just below their home deep in the woods, the Rock River rose up out of its banks, claiming another roadway.

Suddenly, the Saylors' feet became their sole transportation.

"Stranded, nowhere to go," said Martin Saylor, 57, standing by the Rock River on Monday, waiting for his brother to bring in supplies. "Don't want to leave my house because I don't know who's going to break in or whatever. I just don't know what to do."

In Windham County, Sheriff Keith Clark said so many roads were destroyed, he can't count the number of people who might be missing in the hills and who can't call for assistance because phone and power lines are down, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

The capricious storm, which veered into Vermont in its final hours, dumped up to 11 inches of rain in some places and turned placid little mountain streams into roaring brown torrents that smashed buildings, ripped homes from their foundation and washed out roads all across the state.

"Everyone was worried about the wind, no one told us about the flooding," resident Norma Shakun told CBS News. "No one warned us about flooding until five minutes before we evacuated."

Some Vermont rivers still haven't reached their peak.

On Monday, the Otter Creek at Rutland was still more than three feet above flood stage, and meteorologist Andrew Loconto said projections are the river won't drop below flood stage until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, National Guard helicopters began taking food and water Tuesday to Vermont towns cut off by flooding.

Vermont Emergency Management spokesman Mark Bosma said the helicopters would bring relief to people in about a dozen towns where roads and bridges were washed out, including Cavendish, Hancock, Pittsfield, Stockbridge, Strafford and Stratton.

Officials also used heavy-duty National Guard vehicles to reach towns where roads may be passable.

At least three people died in Vermont.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who acknowledged the storm was "devastating," pushed back at critics who said the state didn't do enough to prepare.

"We actually did prepare for this storm but you can't evacuate Vermont. We are a state of hills and valleys with little small rivers flowing into bigger rivers. And frankly, we simply can't evacuate entire states," he said on "The Early Show" Tuesday. (Watch the full interview with Gov. Shumlin above.)

In New York City, where people had braced for a disaster-movie scene of water swirling around skyscrapers, the subways and buses were up and running again in time for the Monday morning commute. And to the surprise of many New Yorkers, things went pretty smoothly.

Towns further upstate weren't so lucky.

In the town of Windham, located in New York's Catskill Mountains, residents are still stunned after a day of taking in the damage, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

"It appears although a meteorite landed. It's utter devastation, its shocking and mind-boggling. Our sleepy little village was a great gem a getaway place for folks. And now it's devastating. It's tragic," Lori Torgensen told CBS News.

In the span of a few hours Sunday, Irene dumped more than 10 inches of rain on the already soggy town. The creeks turned into raging rivers, sending up to four feet of water rushing down Main Street and washing away homes and businesses. (Watch Axelrod's report on Windham at left.)

"It evolved on us like the flick of a light switch," Tom Hoyt, the town's highway and water superintendent, said.

"We thought we were going to lose electricity at most," said an emotional Antonia Schreiber.

Schreiber's business, a day spa she's owned for five years, has been totaled. The second floor is fine, but that's where she lives. The first floor, where she kept all her inventory and space for massages and treatments, were wiped out. And while she's in tears, she also considers herself lucky.

"We're lucky in comparison to others. We have our building. Other people have nothing. Their homes are gone."

Schreiber is not alone. Axelrod counted around a dozen businesses along Windham's Main Street that were seriously damaged.

Meanwhile, power outages were still widespread from north to south on Tuesday, with utilities from Virginia to Maine reporting around 2.5 million customers without electricity.

By Tuesday, a majority of riders on the hard-hit Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad were able to get onto trains. Only three of the LIRR lines were still suspended, covering the eastern end of the Long Island.

The 11-state death toll, which had stood at 21 as of Sunday night, rose sharply as bodies were pulled from floodwaters and people were electrocuted by downed power lines.

In Glen, N.Y., state police say they've recovered the body of a man whose pickup was swept off a road by a fast-moving flood of water the morning after Tropical Storm Irene, the AP reported Tuesday.

Investigator Karl Meybaum says 72-year-old Stephen Terleckey was apparently going to check on his flooded business and traveled several miles past warning barricades when he ran into the overflowing Schoharie Creek as a crew of bridge inspectors tried to wave him off.

An apparently vacant home exploded in an evacuated, flooded area in Pompton Lakes, N.J., early Monday, and firefighters had to battle the flames from a boat. In the Albany, N.Y., suburb of Guilderland, police rescued two people Monday after their car was swept away. Rescuers found them three hours later, clinging to trees along the swollen creek.

"It's going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude," President Barack Obama warned as he promised the government would do everything in its power to help people get back on their feet.

In Connecticut, about 185 of the state's National Guardsmen are continuing to help cities and towns with food and water distribution and debris removal in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

Col. John Whitford of the Guard said Tuesday that troops are at Rentschler Field in East Hartford unloading food and water from delivery trucks and loading the items back into trucks bound for shelters across the state.

Whitford says guardsmen are also in East Haven and East Lyme clearing trees and other debris to give utility crews access to damaged power lines and components. He says he expects troops to be deployed in other towns to help with debris removal during the week.

In North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore along the Outer Banks on Saturday before heading for New York and New England, 1,000 people were still in emergency shelters, awaiting word on their homes.

Airlines said it would be days before the thousands of passengers stranded by Irene find their way home. Some Amtrak service in the Northeast was limited or suspended. Commuter train service between New Jersey and New York City resumed Tuesday, except for one line that was still dealing with flooding.

Throughout the region, hundreds of roads were impassable because of flooding or fallen trees, and some bridges had simply given way, including a 156-year-old hand-hewn, wooden covered bridge across Schoharie Creek in Blenheim, N.Y.

At least three towns in New York remained cut off by flooded roads and bridges.

Early estimates put Irene's damage at $7 billion to $10 billion, much smaller than the impact of monster storms such as Hurricane Katrina, which did more than $100 billion in damage. Irene's effects are small compared to the overall U.S. economy, which produces about $14 trillion worth of goods and services every year.

While people without electric power waited for the lights to come back on and communities from New York to Maine took stock of the storm, homeowners and towns in land-locked Vermont faced a sobering new reality -- no way in or out. Washed-out roads and bridges left them -- for now -- inaccessible by automobile.

"We always had that truism that said `Yup, yah can't get there from here.' In fact, that's come to pass down here," said Newfane Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli. "There are certain pockets where you can't get there from here, at least not by a car."

About a dozen towns and an unknown number of homes were cut off by damage from Irene's floodwaters and rain, including that of the town's emergency management coordinator, David Moore. State transportation maintenance crews and contractors hired by the state were working to restore travel on some of the 260 roads that had been closed due to storm damage. Vermont also had 30 highway bridges closed.

In small Newfane (pop. 1,710), the storm's effects were staggering: About 150 people were unable to drive cars to their homes, 30 of them effectively stranded in theirs, seven bridges were washed out, two homes were knocked from their foundations by surging floodwaters and one 19th century grist mill smashed into kindling wood right where it stood.

Gov. Shumlin called it the worst flooding in a century.

For the Saylors, there were more immediate concerns.

"I need a shower," said Sue Saylor. "I need water. I need electricity. It's rough."

View CBS News In