Tropical Storm Irene has been called the worst natural disaster to ever hit Vermont. Twelve thousand people remain without power thereand over 250 roads were closed, with six state highway bridges completely destroyed. The federal government has pledged $5 million to Vermont for initial rebuilding. Relief efforts are underway, and progress is already being made for the many towns and highways irreparably damaged by the storm.
CELESTE: Well, many people expected it would be New York that would be hit hardest by Hurricane Irene. Instead, it turns out it was Vermont. Flooding there has left entire towns still isolated and citizens are having to get food and water helicoptered in. Joining us now is Governor Peter Gov. Shumlin of Vermont. Good morning, Governor.
GOV. SHUMLIN: Good morning.
CELESTE: Can you give us an update on the state right now and how many citizens are still isolated by water?
GOV. SHUMLIN: Well, we're making progress. We still have a number of towns that have no water because they have no power. But we've moved from 60,000 down to 13,000 in terms of powerless and we're hooking those up all the time. This storm was just - the devastation is extraordinary. I can tell you stories, but basically we have whole towns that have seen their houses and community buildings washed into streams. I flew over and visited a community yesterday where you literally see the caskets of cemeteries washed into the streams, cemeteries that had been there for hundreds of years. So there's no question this was the worst storm in Vermont's history.
CELESTE: And again, we're speaking with Governor Peter Gov. Shumlin of Vermont. And let me ask you - you've obviously gotten a lot of criticism that many of these places were not evacuated before the storm. People have said over and over, didn't you know there was a chance there would be this kind of flooding? And I wonder what your response is. Did you have any idea, was there a decision process for you, where people came in and said there would be some flooding but it won't be extensive?
GOV. SHUMLIN: No, frankly we knew we were going to have flooding. The national weather forecast predicted we were going to get extraordinary amounts of rain, 7-8 inches in short periods of time, and high winds. So we prepared for the worst. And, frankly we got delivered the worst. The challenge for evacuating in Vermont is different than it might be in New Jersey or North Carolina, or even the southern end of Manhattan. Obviously, if you're from a coastal community, you're going to evacuate your coast, because that's where these storms come from. I think the national media has perhaps missed the fact that Vermont has no coast. We are, all we are is hills and valleys with small streams running into larger rivers. So if you were to evacuate Vermont, the obvious question would be, where would you start? You can't evacuate the entire state. And the interesting thing about this storm is that you can go down two miles and see a community just totally untouched, and half-a-mile down the road you'll [see] a community that's washed out. And so how is one to predict what communities would be hit by this kind of flooding, and which wouldn't? And so that's kind of a national media obsession. But here in Vermont we're not getting that criticism because folks here understand we have no sea line. So we're just encouraging those who think we do to just come on up and help us out.
CELESTE: We're speaking with Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont. Governor, we spoke earlier on this program about the state of the infrastructure, and it was suggested that perhaps this hurricane revealed some of the weaknesses in the country's infrastructure that perhaps we have not invested what we needed to in our power grid over the years, that we haven't cut down trees when they needed to be cut down, or reinforced our bridges and roadways when they perhaps needed it. Do you think that's true?
GOV. SHUMLIN: No, I really don't. I think that the response has been extraordinary, to be honest with you. I mean we got hit with the worst flooding in Vermont's history and any state that hits a historic devastation is going to, obviously, have extraordinary impacts. But this notion that somehow it could have been avoided or that there are other things we could have done, I think is a bit of a Monday morning quarterbacking that isn't justified. Listen, the President Obama has been extraordinary. He has his team in here. They're checking with us every few hours. They're flying in supplies. We're rebuilding. We're reconnecting our power grid. We have folks from all over the country and, in fact, Canada helping us to do that. We're building roads. We now have goat paths into every community in Vermont. That's happened in three days. And we're going to get rebuilt. Vermonters are resilient. We're tough. And I think the suggestion that there's other things that could have been done is a bit of a dream. However, I do think that the overall message that should not be lost here is this. I've been governor of this little state for 9 months, 8 months I should say, and this is the second major storm that I've dealt with where just Vermont has been hit with Cost Rica-like rains, that are not normally found, tropical storms, here in the northern most part of our great country. And I think the message is this. We have to take these storms as an example of what lies ahead for us as a result of climate change and the carbon that we've put into the environment. And I think we should take this as a lesson to ask these questions. The assumptions that we've made about where we build our roads, where we build our bridges, where we build our communities, flood plains - how do we adjust to an environment where, New England at least, is just going to get more precipitation in the form of heavy rains and extraordinary, rapid moving storms that we're just not accustomed to in America's past.
CELESTE: We're speaking with Governor Peter Gov. Shumlin of Vermont. Governor, since you've brought up the idea of preparation for emergencies, we're going to be speaking with the director of FEMA, Craig Fugate, later on this hour. I'm wondering what you take is on the debate over the purpose of FEMA. Ron Paul suggested we don't need FEMA. There's been, obviously, a lot of concern over funding for FEMA since FEMA declared that they have less than a billion dollars left in their emergency relief fund. How has FEMA been working in your state, and what would you say to the senators and representatives who are debating whether or not to put more funds into FEMAS coffers?
GOV. SHUMLIN: I would urge Ron Paul and any critics of FEMA to come to Vermont because they've got their team on the ground. Craig himself was up here earlier in the week. And they have just an A team, that we would be absolutely lost without right now. So I would just ask to look in the eyes of Vermonters who've lost their homes, who've lost their businesses, who've seen their husbands and children killed by the storm and see the kind of response that FEMA is giving us. And then go back to Washington and see if they can come to the same conclusions. Listen, what congress has got to do is stop the partisan bickering, stop the politicking, get FEMA the funds they need to respond. And I've spoken with Governor Christie in New Jersey. I've spoken with governors throughout New England, Governor Cuomo. Everyone agrees that FEMA's doing their job. They just need Congress to stop bickering and keep it funded.
CELESTE: So are you confident that you'll get the funds you need to pay for the recovery there?
GOV. SHUMLIN: Well, President Obama certainly committed to making that happen, and yes I am. And FEMA is as well. I just know that America's a great country. We stick together. When Katrina hits New Orleans, as an example, Vermonters are happy to pay, send in resources, volunteers to help, and I know that other parts of the country feel the same about New England right now. And I think we'll get the help we need.
CELESTE: Governor Peter Gov. Shumlin of Vermont, thank you so much for joining us.
GOV. SHUMLIN: Thanks for having me.
CELESTE: That's the governor talking about flooding in his state that at this point still has about 12,000 people without power. They're estimated that perhaps $7-$10 billion of damage in that state alone.