08/30/2011 02:57 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2011

Catskill Mountains towns devastated by Irene

By Dan Wiessner

WINDHAM, New York (Reuters) - Picturesque Route 23, which connects tiny towns that dot the Catskill Mountains, this week is testament to the fury unleashed in upstate New York by Hurricane Irene.

Record rainfall forced creeks to swell, and walls of water poured down from the mountains to upend huge slabs of asphalt, wash homes off their foundations and leave residents unaccustomed to natural disasters stunned by the damage.

In Windham, a town of about 1,700 known for its eponymous ski resort, the main street is lined with deep muddy ditches where sidewalks used to be.

A garage slipped into a creek that winds through town and crashed into a bridge. Debris is piled high.

"We just weren't ready for this," said Pat Rothbard, owner of a summer home in nearby Hunter.

Three people in the area were killed, including a 60-year-old woman whose house was swept away while she was trapped inside and a 23-year-old man whose car hydroplaned and flipped several times.

Another man was killed as he helped a neighbor move his car out of the flood's path.

Starting on Monday, National Guard troops and local authorities kicked off what is likely to be a long, expensive recovery process. Most of the area lacks electricity and telephone lines, and an unknown number of people remain isolated in mountaintop vacation homes.

"Where do you start?" said one Guardsman, surveying damage at a gas station in the heart of Windham.

Nearby Prattsville was nearly wiped off the map when the roads into town and the bridges that take travelers into the mountains were destroyed. Nearly 100 people had to be rescued from a motel and surrounding campgrounds.

Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said from a command center in the town of Cairo that the estimated cost of the damage has yet to be calculated.

As for Route 23 and other decimated roads, Groden said, it will be difficult to begin repairs before asphalt suppliers shut down for the winter.

"We could be driving on stone roads for a long time," he said.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)