Evacuations urged in Vermont; power outages spread

Posted Aug. 28, 2011, at 8:36 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The remnants of Hurricane Irene pummeled Vermont with high winds but mainly heavy rains on Sunday, leaving the southern Vermont town of Wilmington isolated and one young woman missing after she was swept away by the Deerfield River, officials said.

“It’s really important that Vermonters take this storm seriously and stay inside,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said at an afternoon news conference at Vermont Emergency Management headquarters.

“Don’t stand next to rushing water, which is what she and her friend were doing at the time of her disappearance,” Shumlin said of the woman in Wilmington, whom authorities did not publicly identify. Shumliin urged Vermonters to “proceed with extraordinary caution and good judgment.”

The center of Wilmington, a ski resort town at the junction of Vermont Routes 100 and 9, was flooded by the East Branch of the Deerfield River but could not be reached by either of those state roads due to washouts. Vermont National Guard members deployed in a rescue operation had to travel south of the state line and travel back north from Massachusetts, Shumlin said.

Rivers flooded across southern Vermont, with the same expected later father north. Across the state, there were reports of culverts and roads being washed away, large trees coming down and water entering people’s homes. At about 3 p.m., rescue workers were dispatched to a stream in Grafton, where a woman was reported clinging to a tree in rushing water.

The storm’s path shifted west of what was forecast initially, moving up through western Vermont and eastern New York state, rather than the Connecticut River valley.

Shumlin cautioned that Vermonters should stay at home even after the storm appears to have passed. Roads will be flooded and power lines down, creating continuing dangers, he said.

The storm did not produce winds as strong as had been feared, with gusts topping 50 mph but not getting to the 70 mph forecasters had predicted. Even the lesser winds were enough to topple trees onto power lines, and by mid-afternoon more than 25,000 electric customers without power, utility officials said.

“Line crews have been restoring outages since early this morning, but in some areas extreme flooding conditions and road closures are hampering our ability to respond and restore power, especially in Dover and Wilmington,” said Dottie Schnure, spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power Corp.

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