US Authorities to Airlift Supplies to Flood-Hit Northeastern Communities

Posted August 30th, 2011 at 6:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Authorities in the northeastern United States say they are preparing to airlift food and water to communities cut off by flooding from Hurricane Irene.

Emergency workers in the state of Vermont said Tuesday they will use helicopters to provide supplies to residents of about a dozen towns in which homes were swept away or submerged by the floods. Rescuers in the state of New Jersey rescued more than 500 people from flooded homes, some by boat and others by truck.

Top Obama administration officials also toured Vermont, New Jersey, and Virginia, three of the worst-hit states, on Tuesday to survey recovery efforts and provide help to local officials. U.S. President Barack Obama has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government agencies to do “everything in their power” to help those affected by the hurricane.

Meanwhile, forecasters said another storm is brewing over the Atlantic Ocean. The National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Katia will likely strengthen into a major hurricane by Saturday or Sunday. But it said, so far, it is not clear if or where Katia will make landfall.

Irene first hit the U.S. coast Saturday in the southeastern state of North Carolina, before moving up the East Coast and weakening into a tropical storm as it reached the country's northeast. The storm dumped heavy rain over inland areas of Vermont, New Jersey and New York state, causing streams and rivers to burst their banks. The floodwaters covered entire towns and washed away roads and bridges, catching many residents off guard.

Some rivers were cresting on Tuesday.

The confirmed death toll from Irene rose to at least 40 in 11 U.S. states. The storm crossed over eastern Canada Monday, leaving one person missing in Quebec province after floodwaters swept away his car. Irene also killed at least three people in the Dominican Republic and one person in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico as it churned through the Caribbean.

Utility companies were racing to restore power to millions of East Coast homes and businesses after the storm. The number of power outages declined to about three million on Tuesday, from five million a day before.

FEMA Chief Craig Fugate said Monday the agency's disaster relief fund has fallen to less than $800 million, forcing the agency to suspend some work on previous disasters so that enough money is available to deal with new emergencies like Hurricane Irene. Some of the long-term projects that FEMA has suspended include rebuilding infrastructure in Mid-Western states ravaged by deadly tornadoes earlier this year.