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Rescuers brace for more rain in the Northeast as storms swamp Vermont's capital

People stand on the Vilas Bridge, in Bellows Falls, Rockingham, Vt., to watch the water from the Connecticut River flow through on Monday, July 10, 2023. Heavy rain has washed out roads and forced evacuations in the Northeast, especially in Vermont and New York.
Kristopher Radder
People stand on the Vilas Bridge, in Bellows Falls, Rockingham, Vt., to watch the water from the Connecticut River flow through on Monday, July 10, 2023. Heavy rain has washed out roads and forced evacuations in the Northeast, especially in Vermont and New York.

Updated July 11, 2023 at 3:05 AM ET

President Biden approved Vermont's emergency declaration Tuesday morning as rescue teams in that state braced for more rain and flooding from a storm that left a trail of damage and resulted in at least one death across the Northeast.

The order, announced by the White House while Biden is in Vilnius, Lithuania, at a gathering of European and North American leaders at a NATO summit, orders federal assistance to supplement local and state efforts for areas affected by flooding.

In the state capital of Montpelier, city leaders posted an emergency health order late Monday evening that closed downtown until at least midday Tuesday to allow the Winooski River to recede. City officials urged people earlier Monday night to stay away due to contaminated floodwaters.

Earlier Monday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott issued a state of emergency as rainfall in some places was expected to exceed levels recorded during 2011's Hurricane Irene, he said at a Monday press conference.

"The good news is as a result of Irene, we were able to mitigate some of the infrastructure, so we hopefully won't repeat in those areas that were affected before," he said. "We've been able to upgrade and armor some of those areas so that we don't have a repeat."

Vermont authorities knew at least 48 hours in advance they would not have enough resources ahead of the storm, and has deployed state water rescue teams, as well as those from North Carolina and Massachusetts. Michigan and Connecticut have also supplied mutual aid, Vermont's Urban Search and Rescue Program Coordinator Mike Cannon said Monday.

Brendan McNamara, the town manager for Ludlow, Vt., said the rivers began flowing over their banks early Monday morning, and that there was catastrophic damage to Okemo, a southern Vermont resort town.

"The total scope of what kind of damage that has occurred in Ludlow – the onion isn't even peeled back at all right now," he said. "I mean, I'm up and down Main Street because that's what we can access and it is not good."

Neighborhoods in Vermont towns including Londonderry and Weston were inaccessible, and rescue teams tried to gain access to continue welfare checks, Cannon said.

A flash flood warning had been in effect in parts of central and southern Vermont until late Monday night, according to the National Weather Service.

New York governor declares emergencies in multiple counties

In New York, some areas such as the mid-Hudson and Finger Lakes, received more than 8 inches of rain in 24 hours, the governor's office said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul issued states of emergency in Orange and Ontario counties, activating special equipment and extra emergency personnel in those places. Several roads and highways have also been closed down.

"While the storm has already passed through the southern part of New York, conditions remain dangerous in further north where there are ongoing extreme weather conditions," Hochul said. "I urge all New Yorkers to remain vigilant, monitor local forecasts and have an evacuation plan ready if you're in a danger zone."

Water rescue teams did door-to-door checks and more than a dozen people volunteered to evacuate, Hochul's office said.

As of about 9:30 p.m. Monday, there were approximately 4,400 customers without power, according to poweroutage.us.

Additionally, the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Metro-North Hudson line paused some of its services, while Amtrak suspended its route between Albany and New York City on Monday. About 90 passengers had to stay overnight at the Albany station, Hochul's office said. New York's Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks were also closed Monday.

Over the weekend, rescue teams in New York's Hudson Valley reportedly attempted to retrieve the body of a woman who drowned after being swept away while trying to evacuate her home.

Flood safety tips

  • Don't drive through flood water.
  • Evacuate or move to higher ground if water levels are rising.
  • Pay attention to local media alerts.
  • Don't operate generators inside and make sure they are property ventilated once outside.
  • Shut the circuit breaker off before evacuating to make it easier for rescue teams to do their work.
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Ayana Archie
    [Copyright 2024 NPR]