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CREWS BREAK ICE TO EASE VERMONT FLOODING

Floodwater that turned downtown streets into canals receded after a crane pounded apart the largest of three ice jams that diverted a river into the city and destroyed a bridge.

Downtown Montpelier remained closed off Thursday to prevent looting, with State Police posted at every intersection. Residents and business owners needed permits to return. Electricity was out, schools remained closed and most state offices were shut, though the Legislature planned to convene.Hundreds were evacuated from apartments, businesses and stalled cars Wednesday by emergency workers using jet skis and boats after ice jams diverted the Winooski River into the capital city of 8,000 people. Streets were inundated by up to 7 feet of water.

Ice jams come with spring in northern New England, when sudden thaws break up frozen rivers. In New Hampshire, residents and rescuers reckoned with their own ice jams and floods Thursday on the Connecticut River, which runs along the Vermont-New Hampshire state line, and the Sugar, Pemigewasset and Gale rivers.

No injuries were reported in either state.

Crews in Montpelier used boxes of old tax forms, along with sand, Wednesday to keep the water out of the state's Pavilion Office Building.

Authorities said it was the worst flood in Montpelier since 1927, when 60 people were killed.

Gov. Howard Dean, who declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard, said damage would be in the tens of millions of dollars. The area affected by the water was more than a mile long and about half a mile wide.

"This is a tremendous amount of damage," Dean said as toured the area this morning. "This will be a real trick to get this up and running."

The water had subsided after a huge crane was able to break the largest of the three jams near Montpelier, repeatedly dropping a heavy weight to break up the compacted ice.

But another ice jam crushed a railroad bridge spanning the Winooski River, pulling down most of the power lines supplying electricity for the capital.

Telephone service also was disrupted.

The Red Cross set up a shelter at Vermont College, where evacuees included 70 sixth-graders from out of town who were staying at a downtown hotel during a trip to the capital, officials said.