Flood worries and some relief in Irene's wake
Updated: 2011-08-29 09:25
A rainbow appears over a building as sand is blown down Long Beach Park as the sun sets and the sky clears from Hurricane Irene in Long Beach, New York August 28, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
NEW YORK - Stripped of hurricane rank, Tropical Storm Irene spent the last of its fury Sunday, leaving treacherous flooding and millions without power - but an unfazed New York and relief that it was nothing like the nightmare authorities feared.
Slowly, the East Coast surveyed the damage, up to $7 billion by one private estimate. For many the danger had not passed: Rivers and creeks turned into raging torrents tumbling with limbs and parts of buildings in northern New England and upstate New York.
"This is not over," President Barack Obama said from the Rose Garden.
Flooding was widespread in Vermont, where parts of Brattleboro, Bennington and several other communities, were submerged. One woman was swept away and feared drowned in the Deerfield River.
Meanwhile, the nation's most populous region looked to a new week and the arduous process of getting back to normal.
New York lifted its evacuation order for 370,000 people and said it hoped to have its subway, shut down for the first time by a natural disaster, rolling again Monday, though maybe not in time for the morning commute. Philadelphia restarted its trains and buses.
"All in all," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "we are in pretty good shape."
At least 21 people died in the storm, most of them when trees crashed through roofs or onto cars.
The main New York power company, Consolidated Edison, didn't have to go through with a plan to cut electricity to lower Manhattan to protect its equipment. Engineers had worried that salty seawater would damage the wiring.
And two pillars of the neighborhood came through the storm just fine: The New York Stock Exchange said it would be open for business on Monday, and the Sept. 11 memorial at the World Trade Center site didn't lose a single tree.
The center of Irene passed over Central Park at midmorning with the storm packing 65 mph winds. By evening, with its giant figure-six shape brushing over New England and drifting east, it was down to 50 mph. It was expected to drop below tropical storm strength - 39 mph - before midnight, and was to drift into Canada later Sunday or early Monday.
"Just another storm," said Scott Beller, who was at a Lowe's hardware store in the Long Island hamlet of Centereach, looking for a generator because his power was out.
The Northeast was spared the urban nightmare some had worried about - crippled infrastructure, stranded people and windows blown out of skyscrapers. Early assessments showed "it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.
Later in the day, the extent of the damage became clearer. Flood waters were rising across New Jersey, closing side streets and major highways including the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate 295. In Essex County, authorities used a five-ton truck to ferry people away from their homes as the Passaic River neared its expected crest Sunday night.
Twenty homes on Long Island Sound in Connecticut were destroyed by churning surf. The torrential rain chased hundreds of people in upstate New York from their homes and washed out 137 miles of the state's main highway.
In Massachusetts, the National Guard had to help people evacuate. The ski resort town of Wilmington, Vt., was flooded, but nobody could get to it because both state roads leading there were underwater.
"This is the worst I've ever seen in Vermont," said Mike O'Neil, the state emergency management director.
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