Image: Flooded homes
John Curran  /  AP
Floodwaters from Lake Champlain surround homes in a Burlington, Vt., neighborhood on Wednesday.
By
updated 5/6/2011 12:59:03 PM ET 2011-05-06T16:59:03

While a vast swath of America's midsection braces for Mississippi River flooding, a small corner of the Northeast is quietly dealing with high-water headaches of its own.

Gorged on snowmelt and incessant rain, normally placid Lake Champlain is overflowing, creeping into homes, businesses and neighborhoods in upstate New York and Vermont.

In Vermont, the floodwaters threaten to swamp the two access roads leading to the island communities of Grand Isle County, home to about 7,500 people.

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Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday that more than 500 homes around Lake Champlain have been destroyed or severely damaged by the flooding.

The two roads that link Grand Isle to the mainland remain open, but officials continue to monitor them, he added.

On Thursday, Shumlin toured the flooded area by helicopter and then declared the area a disaster, which allowed him to call up help from the National Guard.

Speaking Friday in Montpelier, Shumlin said soldiers have filled about 67,000 sandbags and provided high water vehicles to help with recovery efforts.

Lake Champlain is expected to crest Friday at more than 103 feet above sea level, three feet above flood stage.

While there have been no deaths and no mandatory evacuations, record-high lake levels have caused flooding in Burlington — the state's biggest city — and numerous towns.

Shumlin flew over the hardest-hit areas of the Champlain Islands.

"I've never seen anything like it, and I've been flying over Vermont for 35 years," said Vermont National Guard commander Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie, who was with him. "The camps, the houses, the roads. It's a tough situation."

Typically, spring rains and snowmelt in Vermont pose more of a threat for river flooding. This year, it's the lake, fed by rivers and tributaries in the Adirondacks of New York state and the Green Mountains of Vermont.

The 120-mile-long freshwater lake, which separates upstate New York and Vermont and stretches into Canada, reached its highest level on record last week — about 102 feet above sea level — and has continued to rise, to 103.1 feet Thursday.

Flood stage is 100 feet.

In New York, a state of emergency was in effect in Plattsburgh and numerous surrounding towns.

Across the lake, Vermont officials estimated the public infrastructure damages at more than $3.5 million early in the week but say the actual damages will be far more. No estimate has been given for private property damage, but it's expected to far exceed that.

People who normally savor picturesque lakefront views and easy access to swimming and boating are knee-deep in water — and misery. Newspaper deliveries have been cut off, some ferry service discontinued and schools forced to close.

"There's 3 1/2 feet of water in my crawl space," said Maria Spadanuda, standing on sandbags in the back yard of her home in Burlington's north end. "I was told I didn't need flood insurance when I bought this house. I have no coverage for this," she said Wednesday.

Nearby, sisters Deana Raymond and Donna Richard — wearing hip waders — waded down North Cove Road, through knee-deep water and rain that wouldn't stop.

"It's just devastating," said Raymond, 47, who grew up on the street and was back to help her parents cope with the deluge. "These houses have never taken on water before."

Vermont Agency of Transportation crews have been frantically dumping boulders along causeways where water and waves have undermined road surfaces, and using fill to try to keep the water from covering the travel lanes.

Vermont Emergency Management spokesman Mark Bosma said water could overtake Route 78 — one of two east-west access roads to Grand Isle County — at any time.

"Homeowners have lost a tremendous amount of property, and they're demoralized," said Shumlin, who toured floodwater-damaged Route 2 in Milton on Wednesday.

The flooding could continue for weeks. The Richelieu River in Canada, which Champlain flows into, was at record levels, too, prompting severe flooding there.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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