By Brendan O’Brien and Rich McKay
(Reuters) -Torrential downpours pounded the U.S. Northeast on Monday, threatening catastrophic flooding across the region, where rains have washed out roadways, overwhelmed rivers, forced numerous rescues by boat and caused at least one fatality, officials said.
More than 13 million Americans were under flood watches and warnings from Eastern New York state to Boston and Western Maine to the northeast, the National Weather Service said in its forecast Monday, after storms that began over the weekend inundated rivers and streams.
“Widespread, heavy rainfall capable of producing considerable to catastrophic flooding is beginning to unfold, road washouts are ongoing, and are expected to increase in extent and severity over the course of the day,” the weather service said.
From Sunday to Monday, more than 8 inches (20 cm) of rain had fallen in Stormville, a small town just over 50 miles (80 km) northeast of New York City. Parts of the Burlington, Vermont, area have seen 6 inches (15 cm) of rain, with 2 inches (5 cm)of downpours expected Monday afternoon.
More than 1,000 flights to and from airports across the region, including New York’s LaGuardia and Boston’s Logan, were delayed or canceled on Monday due to the rains.
Amtrak suspended passenger train service between the state capital Albany and New York City after flooding damaged tracks. Amtrak shares some of that route’s track with the Metro-North commuter railroad into New York, which suspended some service on that line and another.
The weather claimed the life of an Orange County, New York, woman, who was swept away by floodwaters as she tried to leave her home with her dog on Sunday, County Executive Steven Neuhaus, said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday.
“Last night was complete chaos,” he said.
Neuhaus said first responders were trying to reach trapped people to make sure they are safe in Highland Falls and the West Point-Fort Montgomery area, which is along the Hudson River north of New York City and is home to the Army’s U.S. Military Academy, best known as West Point.
“Many roads and bridges have been washed out,” he said. “So that’s basically what our priority is today, to try to get to them and open up these major arteries.”
Video footage and photos posted on social media showed washed-out roadways and raging floodwaters reaching houses on Sunday and early Monday morning.
“Oh my God. It’s up to my knees,” Melissa Roberts said in a video showing floodwaters rushing past her and several vehicles and up to homes in Orange County.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul has issued states of emergency for that county and Ontario County to the northwest, and urged residents to watch the forecast closely throughout the day.
In Vermont, most of the New England state was at risk of life-threatening flash flooding on Monday, with forecasters saying up to an inch (2.5 cm) of rain an hour could fall during the day.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck” event, Vermont Governor Phil Scott said at a news conference, a day after declaring a state of emergency for Vermont. He warned the worst might be ahead as the rainfall continues.
About two dozen state roads were closed as potentially deadly flooding spread across much of the state from the Massachusetts state line north to the Canadian border, Vermont State Police said.
In central Vermont, the weather service’s Burlington office declared a flash flood emergency, advising that the area could see the worst flooding since Hurricane Irene hit the state in 2011, when 11 inches (28 cm) fell.
The rain had already turned many roads into raging rivers across the state, media reports said.
Early Monday, emergency crews in boats rescued about a dozen campers in Andover, said Jeannette Haight, the town’s clerk.
“A bridge washed out, and that was the only way in or out,” she said. “The call for help went out at 4 a.m., and they set up a swift-boat rescue. Everyone is safe this morning.”
More boat crews, including some from North Carolina, were on their way to Vermont to help with other rescues, according to emergency officials.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Ed Osmond and Jonathan Oatis)
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