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Vermont presses post-Irene recovery, braces for more flooding

Jennifer Herzig works to clean up the shop First Stop Convenience and Repair owned by herself and her husband in Jacksonville
Jennifer Herzig works to clean up the shop First Stop Convenience and Repair owned by herself and her husband in Jacksonville

By Zach Howard

BRATTLEBORO, Vt (Reuters) - A week after Tropical Storm Irene washed out scores of roads across southern and central Vermont, state officials on Saturday worked to restore more routes and worried about forecasts for more heavy rain.

A forecast for rounds of thunderstorms with torrential downpours in east-central New York and southern Vermont in the coming days raised concerns Vermont could see renewed flash flooding over already compromised areas.

Heavy rainfall, combined with saturated soil conditions from extreme rains dumped by Irene, may lead to flash flooding in low-lying, poor-drainage areas and in areas next to small streams and creeks, the National Weather Service said.

The weather service on Saturday issued a flash flood warning for the region from Sunday afternoon through early Tuesday. Rivers that experienced flooding during Irene will be particularly susceptible to fresh flooding should torrential downpours occur for several hours, the weather service added.

"We are putting swift-water rescue teams on standby and notifying towns and everyone in the field from the state and federal government of the potential for more flooding," Governor Peter Shumlin said.

Vermont's emergency management center was staying open around the clock, he added.

"I urge all Vermonters and visitors to be vigilant and stay out of rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and reservoirs in the areas affected by severe flooding," Shumlin said.

The north of Vermont was largely spared the calamitous flooding that struck other parts of the state under Irene.

As the fall tourist season got underway for the Labor Day weekend, 84 out of 118 damaged state road segments had reopened to at least some traffic and 15 of 24 closed state highway bridges were now accessible, officials said. The status of town-managed roads and bridges was still being determined.

Late Friday, Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said the state was well on its way to restoring access for emergency vehicles and utility companies to every community.

Restoring full public access to the communities and inspecting bridges of concern is a top priority, he said.

Workers also have restored vehicle access to communities that were isolated, Searles said. Most roads in Clarendon, Tinmouth, Wallingford, Danby and Mount Tabor -- towns once cut off from the rest of the state -- are now passable, with all areas reachable again.

Businesses and state officials hope the recovery work is completed quickly heading into the autumn foliage season, when Vermont usually attracts about $330 million in business.

Shumlin on Saturday asked President Barack Obama to approve disaster recovery aid for individuals and businesses in Addison and Orange counties. Five Vermont counties -- Chittenden, Rutland, Washington, Windham and Windsor -- already have qualified for such federal aid to supplement state recovery efforts since Irene hit on August 28.

Shumlin said about 600 customers remained without power earlier on Saturday, down from some 50,000 outages in immediately after the storm.

(Editing by David Bailey)

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