WATERBURY, Vt. (AP) — Almost a dozen New England towns were rendered virtual islands Monday as floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Irene reshaped parts of Vermont and upstate New York, turning placid rivers into raging torrents and some streets into treacherous mud bogs.
Hundreds of roads remained closed, dozens of bridges were gone and entire towns were cut off from assistance in the worst flooding some areas have seen in a century.
A day earlier, Irene dumped up to 11 inches on parts of Vermont and more than 13 inches on some areas of New York — a deluge that quickly overwhelmed waterways, storm sewers and drainage systems. At one point, the floodwaters were rising so fast that Vermont officials feared they might have to take the extraordinary step of flooding the state capital of Montpelier to relieve pressure on a dam.
"We prepared for the worst and we got the worst in central and southern Vermont," Gov. Peter Shumlin said. "It's just devastating — whole communities under water. ... We're tough folks here in Vermont, but Irene really ... hit us hard."
The destruction was etched across the landscape: highways washed out by fast-moving water, bridges and homes crumpled into heaps of broken planks and streets filled with mud thick enough to stop heavy duty vehicles in their tracks.
The images were much the same in upstate New York, where buildings that had withstood a century of hard winters and spring floods were carried away. The floodwaters upended cars and trucks and sent trees tumbling down rivers like matchsticks.
"We were expecting heavy rains," said Bobbi-Jean Jeun of Clarksville, a rural hamlet near Albany. "We were expecting flooding. We weren't expecting devastation."
The storm was blamed for at least six deaths in New York. Three people were dead in Vermont, and a fourth was missing.
In the Catskills town of Phoenicia, the main street was still covered in red earth Monday, a day after a creek swelled beyond its banks and roared through town.
Chris Smith said the water was 3 feet deep on the street and moving swiftly enough to rock telephone poles. It carried away trees and lawn furniture.
"If you tried to cross the street, you would not have made it. The force you would not believe," he said. "It was just chocolate milk and trees and park benches."
The Vermont governor and Sen. Patrick Leahy toured some of the most devastated communities by helicopter Monday, but because the floodwaters cut off many of those towns, the full extent of the damage could take days to emerge. In at least a dozen places, neither utility crews nor emergency vehicles could get in to offer help. President Barack Obama has declared the state a federal disaster area.
Video posted on Facebook showed a 141-year-old covered bridge in Rockingham, Vt., swept away by the roiling, muddy Williams River. In another video, an empty car somersaulted down a river in Bennington.
"I didn't think the water would ever get that high. I can't believe it," said Henry Shattuck of Bellows Falls, Vt., describing the remains of the bridge over the Williams River. "I've seen people crying because it's gone. It hurts me, too, because, like I said, I've been over that bridge many, many times."
"It's pretty fierce. I've never seen anything like it," said Michelle Guevin, who spoke from a Brattleboro restaurant after leaving her home in nearby Newfane.
Almost 50,000 utility customers were without power, and at least two bodies have been recovered. One was believed to be a woman who fell into the Deerfield River while watching flooding in Wilmington. The other was one of two men lost when they went to inspect the inlet to the city's water system.
Chris Cole of the Agency of Transportation said part or nearly all of a dozen communities remained unreachable: Bennington, Cavendish, Chester, Granville, Killington, Ludlow, Mendon, Middletown Springs, Rochester, Stockbridge and Wilmington.
As floodwaters pressed on an earthen dam 20 miles north of Montpelier, officials feared they might have to open floodgates that would add to the water pouring into the state capital of Montpelier to relieve pressure. But by Monday morning, the rain eased and with it the strain on the dam.
At the state office complex on the south end of town, offices were empty Monday but a few workers stopped by to check on damage. And one, flooded out of her home across South Main Street, stopped by to take a shower.
Elsewhere, about 300 people staying at a resort were stranded in Killington, along with 100 staff members. The violent waters also caused part of a vacant ski lodge to collapse. Officials also evacuated the state mental hospital in Waterbury.
Like many people in the tight-knit community of Barnard, Lucinda Tokarski didn't expect Irene to interfere with her life. Thirty-five years had passed without any serious flooding here.
It wasn't until the creek began to wash over the road Sunday afternoon that she gathered her two young boys and jumped in the car.
Her family and several neighbors evacuated to higher ground. When they tried to return Monday, two small bridges had been washed away. Eventually they learned that the flooding had spared Tokarski's home, but left her a crater in her backyard. The lawn next door had turned into a mud puddle.
"What my eyes remember for my whole life is gone," she said.
In Waterbury, the Winooski River and a drainage swale leading to it overflowed their banks, flooding low-lying areas for the full length of the town. The downtown portion of Main Street was covered in mud.
Even the Vermont Emergency Management headquarters at the south end of town had to evacuate early Monday and move to federal offices in Burlington.
At the other end of Waterbury, Justine Barup's voice broke as she surveyed her silt-covered front yard.
"It's a mess, a total disaster," she said.
At the Waterbury Area Food Shelf, an agency in the business of helping others now needed help itself.
"We had five people walk in this morning and say, 'What can we do to help?'" Director Cara Griswold said. Volunteers pulled food and toiletries off the shelves closest to the floodwaters. The facilities' freezers stopped working, but nearby grocery stores offered to keep items frozen.
But with the floor and yard covered in mud, "it's going to be a rough week," she said.
Associated Press Writer Michael Gormley in Albany contributed to this report.