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Flooding from Irene stuns towns far inland

BRATTLEBORO, Vt.

Rippling creeks became deadly deluges. Bridges collapsed into roiling waves. Dry streets turned into fast-rising lakes, closing in around stunned New England towns.

While Irene unleashed its initial share of damage along the sandy shores of the Eastern seaboard, by Monday its greatest impact was felt far from the coastline, in places such landlocked Vermont and the bucolic mountains of upstate New York.

The death toll stood at 40 people across 11 states.

From North Carolina to Maine, communities cleaned up and took stock of the uneven and hard-to-predict costs of a storm that spared the nation's biggest city a nightmare scenario, only to deliver a historic wallop to towns well inland.

"It was a raging torrent," Scott Towle of Brattleboro said of the normally benign Whetstone Brook, which runs beside his house and rose with terrifying speed Sunday when as much as 8 inches of rain fell in six hours. "You could hear boulders, trees, everything going down," said Towle, who on Monday joined other locals at a bridge downtown watching the swollen Connecticut River rush past. "It took out the road; it took out a couple of houses; it took out a bridge."

"It was roaring," said Richard Hodgdon, whose back yard turned into a lake as the Whetstone Brook filled up. "It came past the house on both sides. It was flowing right down (the street). . . . When we saw how fast it was rising, we had never seen that before."

On the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall in Louisiana, Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate said emergency officials had learned from the disastrous aftermath of that storm.

"We can't wait to know how bad it is before we get ready," said Fugate, noting the evacuation orders and emergency teams' preparations in advance of Irene dramatically contrasted to the after-the-fact scramble that marked FEMA's Katrina response.

Even so, more than 48 hours after Irene made landfall early Saturday, about 4.5 million people remained without power in Washington, D.C., and 13 states from North Carolina to Maine. Some rivers had yet to crest, meaning flooding might not be over.

Hundreds remained stranded in communities cut off by washed out roads, including at least 2,500 residents of remote Hatteras Island in North Carolina, where severed utility lines also left them without power. The only access to the island was via a ferry limited to emergency use.

Police in suburban Parsippany, N.J., had to rescue dozens of people who became trapped in two hotels Monday when a nearby lake spilled its banks and sent enough water into the streets and hotel parking lots to swallow vehicles. Evacuees included guests who had fled to the hotels after heeding advice to evacuate their homes in advance of Irene.

There were some signs of a return to normalcy. In New Jersey, Atlantic City's casinos reopened. New York City's subways churned into action in time for the morning commute. Buses returned to service, as did some commuter railroads, and the bell clanged at 9:30 a.m. to mark the opening of trading at the New York Stock Exchange.

For millions, though, normalcy was nowhere to be seen.

"We were expecting heavy rains," said Bobbi-Jean Jeun of Clarksville, a rural hamlet near Albany, N.Y. "We were expecting flooding. We weren't expecting devastation. It looks like somebody set a bomb off."

DEPRESSION FORMS: A tropical depression far out in the Atlantic is forecast to become a hurricane this week. The new depression is forecast to become Tropical Storm Katia early today. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday the depression could reach hurricane strength Thursday, still far out in the Atlantic.

Inside and online

. COUNTING THE DEAD: Though Florida was spared a direct hit, the deaths of two are attributed to Irene. How do officials make such determinations? Tampa Bay, 1B

. IRENE'S deadly scope: A state-by-state accounting of storm-related deaths. 8A

. next storm may be fema's budget: As FEMA funding runs low, the agency faces a political budget battle. 8A

. too much hype?: At tampabay.com/blogs/media, Times TV/media critic Eric Deggans says it's hard to argue with covering a storm that took so many lives.

. photo gallery: See images from the storm at links.tampabay.com.

Flooding from Irene stuns towns far inland 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 7:36am]

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