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Stranded Vt wedding guests airlifted by helicopter

SHARE Stranded Vt wedding guests airlifted by helicopter

MONTPELIER, Vt. — At least a dozen wedding guests were airlifted by helicopter from a Vermont town of Pittsfield on Tuesday where they had been stranded since Tropical Storm Irene hit two days earlier, turning rivers into roiling flood waters that washed away the only road in town.

"It was getting dicey," said Scott Redler, 38, of Jersey City, N.J., who contracted one of the helicopter trips because his mother, a breast cancer patient, was running out of medication.

The helicopter ferried out Redler, the chief strategic officer for trading firm T3 Live.com, his mother and father, his wife, and their 3-year-old child.

"The town was in really, really bad shape. It was its own island, where you couldn't get anything in and couldn't get anything out. Houses were washed away," he said.

Marc Leibowitz and his fiance, Janina Stegmeyer, were in Germany, snowed in last Christmas when they got engaged and picked the Vermont inn for their rustic farm wedding. Now they were stranded again, with about 60 of their wedding guests.

"Basically we had an unbelievable wedding. She told me on Saturday night it was the most perfect dream wedding she could have imagined," said Leibowitz, 31, an artist from Brooklyn, N.Y. "And then on Sunday morning ... the weather changed."

The group expected heavy rains but thought the brunt of the storm would miss the tiny town in the Green Mountains. Many of their friends thanked them for getting them out of New York City, the projected storm target, and into Vermont.

"And then it hit," Leibowitz said.

The small Tweed Creek that ran in front of their bridal cottage at Riverside Farm bed-and-breakfast rose rapidly on Sunday and flooded the bridesmaids' studio apartment below with 5 feet of water.

Leibowitz and his bride, 28, also from Brooklyn, decided they needed to get to the farm's other inn, where relatives — many of Janina's from Germany and in the U.S. for the first time — were staying.

The couple rushed to finish brunch with some of their bridesmaids, despite the owners' warning that the road was giving way and that they should move up the mountain. Their four-wheel drive rental car was able to make it over the bridge to the Amee Farm.

"After we passed, the bridge collapsed," Leibowitz said.

All of the groomsmen and one of the bridesmaids were left behind at the inn, cut off from the road.

On Monday morning, some of the groomsmen rigged up ladders to cross the stream and the remains of the bridge so they could hike in and out and from inn to inn, about a mile over the ravaged road by walking and climbing.

"We were hiking in supplies, food and water," he said.

The newlyweds had planned to leave Thursday for their Hawaiian honeymoon. But they've been told that it could be seven to 10 days before Route 100 that goes through town is repaired.

To pass the time, the couple and their wedding guests have pitched in around town, shoveling mud from homes, getting supplies to elderly residents living in the hills, and working at the Original General Store, which has become the central gathering place in town.

Leibowitz said the general store's owners have been cut off from their own home and have been staying at the store overnight.

By Tuesday, guests were picking vegetables from the farm to prepare for dinner. Townspeople, who didn't have electricity or phone services, were encouraged to bring perishable food to the general store, where it could be stored in a generator-powered refrigerator.

"There's 60 of us in a town of 400 and we're becoming a major drain on their resources," Leibowitz said. Another 60 guests were able to leave safely before the storm worsened.

To keep spirits up, they've been playing charades, and some of their musician friends who entertained at the wedding have been playing music at night.

"A couple of people have been freaked out and others have been really scared," Leibowitz said. "But we're trying to keep people calm."