NEWFANE, Vt.

- National Guard helicopters rushed food and water yesterday to a dozen cut-off Vermont towns after the rainy remnants of Hurricane Irene washed out roads and bridges in a deluge that took many people in the landlocked New England state by surprise.

"As soon as we can get help, we need help," Liam McKinley said by cellphone from a mountain above flood-stricken Rochester, Vt.

Up to 11 inches of rain from the weekend storm turned placid streams into churning, brown torrents that knocked homes off their foundations, flattened trees and took giant bites out of the asphalt across the countryside. At least three people died in Vermont.

"I think that people are still a little shell-shocked right now. There's just a lot of disbelief on people's faces. It came through so quickly, and there's so much damage," Gail Devine, director of the Woodstock Recreation Center, said as volunteers moved furniture out of the flooded basement and shoveled out thick mud that filled two swimming pools.

As crews raced to repair the roads, the National Guard began flying in supplies to the towns of Cavendish, Granville, Hancock, Killington-Mendon, Marlboro, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Rochester, Stockbridge, Strafford, Stratton and Wardsboro. The Guard also used heavy-duty vehicles to bring relief to flood-stricken communities still reachable by road.

The cut-off towns ranged in population from under 200 (Stratton) to nearly 1,400 (Cavendish).

"If it's a life-and-death situation, where someone needs to be Medevac-ed or taken to a hospital, we would get a helicopter there to airlift them out, if we could get close to them. A lot of these areas are mountainous areas where there may not be a place to land," said Mark Bosma, a spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management.

It took a relay operation involving two ambulances and an all-terrain vehicle to take a Killington woman in respiratory distress to a hospital in Rutland, about 13 miles away, after floodwaters severed the road between the two communities, Rutland Regional Medical Center President Tom Hubner said. The patient, whose name was not released, was doing fine, he said.

In Rochester, where telephones were out and damage was severe, people could be seen from helicopters standing in line outside a grocery store. McKinley said the town's restaurants and a supermarket were giving food away rather than let it spoil, and townspeople were helping each other.

"We've been fine so far. The worst part is not being able to communicate with the rest of the state and know when people are coming in," he said.

He said government agencies did a good job of warning people about the storm.

"But here in Vermont, I think we just didn't expect it and didn't prepare for it," he said. "I thought, how could it happen here?"