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Irene toll at 35; major floods in Vermont

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- New England towns battled floods of historic proportions and utility crews struggled to restore power to 5 million people along the East Coast Monday as the rainy remnants of Hurricane Irene finally spun into Canada.

The death toll climbed to 35 people in 10 states after a number of bodies were pulled from the floodwaters in the Northeast.

The storm never became the big-city nightmare forecasters and public officials had warned about. But it toppled trees and power lines and washed away roads and bridges -- some of them well inland from the coastal areas that bore the brunt of Irene's winds.

In Vermont, normally placid streams turned into raging torrents tumbling with tree limbs, cars and parts of bridges.

Hundreds of Vermonters were told to leave their homes after Irene dumped several inches of rain on the landlocked state. Gov. Peter Shumlin called it the worst flooding in a century, and the state was declared a federal disaster area.

Communities were cut off, roads washed out, and at least a dozen bridges lost, including at least three historic covered bridges. "We prepared for the worst and we got the worst in central and southern Vermont," Shumlin said yesterday. "We have extraordinary infrastructure damage."

Video posted on Facebook showed a 141-year-old covered bridge in Rockingham swept away by the roiling, muddy Williams River. In another video, an empty car somersaulted down a river in Bennington.

"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.

Officials at one point thought they might have to flood the state capital, Montpelier, to relieve pressure on a dam. But by yesterday morning that threat had eased.

President Barack Obama, speaking from the Rose Garden, pledged the federal government would be doing everything in its power to ensure people have what they need to get back on their feet, saying it will take time to recover from the storm.

Irene had at one time been a major hurricane, with winds higher than 110 mph as it headed toward the United States. It was a tropical storm with 65 mph winds by the time it hit New York. It had broken up and slowed to 50 mph by the time it reached Canada.

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