JEFFREY BROWN: The death toll from Hurricane Irene rose again today to 45 killed in 13 states, as flooding plagued New Jersey, New York state and Vermont. But there were also small steps forward, with help arriving in badly damaged communities.
The most tangible sign of progress came in hard-hit Vermont. Ground crews managed to reach 10 of 11 towns that had been cut off by muddy torrents. Several towns also got airdrops from National Guard helicopters that ferried in water and ready-to-eat meals. And some people trying to escape the deluge took matters into their own hands.
JESSICA HORTON, resident of Vermont: Somebody else’s house had been ripped off the embankment and came down the river. And so we used their floorboards to make a bridge to get across the river.
JEFFREY BROWN: Elsewhere, communities across the Northeast and New England struggled on against the flooding.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo toured some of the devastation in Prattsville in the Catskill Mountains.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, D-N.Y.: We believe at the end of the day, the total damage will be close to $1 billion, over 600 homes destroyed, six towns inundated; 150 major highways have been damaged, 22 state bridges closed, in the area of agriculture, over $45 million in damage, 140,000 acres and still climbing.
MAN: Stay out of the water. There’s all gas in it. It’s no good.
JEFFREY BROWN: In northern New Jersey, new evacuations took place overnight in Paterson, the state’s third-largest city, as the Passaic River crested.
Elsewhere, people like Bonnie Riddick of Lodi, N.J., returned to their homes to find a daunting cleanup ahead of them.
BONNIE RIDDICK, Lodi, N.J.: This is my second flood in five years. I’m getting the hell out of here. So, my whole apartment, I can’t go back in for like a month, two months, until we gut all the walls, do all the electrical work again. So annoying.
JEFFREY BROWN: Power outages and flooding also meant that summer vacation will last a few days longer for schools across New England. A number of districts delayed the start of the new school year, which had been set for this week.
HENRY ALIBERTI, Maine School Administrative District #52: We have got to ensure that we can get them here safely, that we have food products that haven’t been perished or compromised by having no power in a school, and that we can get our staff in as well.
JEFFREY BROWN: In all, some two million homes and businesses are still in the dark, from New England on down to North Carolina. And, as the states continued to tally the damage from Irene, President Obama declared major disasters in New York and North Carolina. He also planned to visit Paterson, N.J., on Sunday to view the damage there.