Hurricane Irene floods US northeast

Reuters , Monday 29 Aug 2011

New Yorkers faced a hellish commute on Monday as millions of Americans throughout the northeastern United States were left in the dark after Hurricane Irene battered the region before moving into Canada

Heavy rains from Hurricane Irene flood an ocean front street in Pawleys Island, S.C., on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011. State officials say strong winds, heavy rain and some flooding is expected in Horry and Georgetown counties Friday.(Photo:AP)

Downgraded to a tropical and then a post-tropical storm, Hurricane Irene pelted eastern Canada with rain and 50-mph (80-kph) winds after killing 20 people in the United States. It cut power to five million homes and businesses and choked towns with floodwaters.

New York subways and air travel at major airports were due to slowly regain service starting at 6am (EST) but there were expected delays and overcrowding. Most of the commuter rail services feeding the city were out indefinitely.

Wall Street was largely unaffected as was Ground Zero, where the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks is soon to be observed. Financial markets would be open for normal trading, but volume is expected to be low.

Suburban New Jersey and rural Vermont were hit particularly hard. Both states were inundated with rain after an unusually wet summer season left the ground soaked and rivers swelled even before the storm rumbled through.

"It's very serious for us at the moment in Vermont. The top two-thirds of the state are inundated with rapidly rising waters, which we anticipate will be an issue for the next 24 hours," said Robert Stirewalt of the Vermont Emergency Management Agency.

The state's many waterways were overflowing, prompting hundreds of evacuations, and some 40,000 to 50,000 people were without power.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie said "we dodged a bullet" after dire predictions failed to produce a catastrophe. But he urged people to stay home from work as the state recovered and pieced together its battered transit system.

"If you don't have to go to work tomorrow, don't go to work tomorrow," Christie told a news conference. "Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult day to travel around the State of New Jersey."

Parts of upstate New York were still experiencing severe flooding and Governor Andrew Cuomo urged residents of affected areas to follow the directions of emergency officials.


"I urge residents of the Schoharie Valley and near the Mohawk River to take extreme caution overnight and tomorrow. Follow the directions of local emergency officials. If ordered to evacuate you should do so without hesitation," he said in a statement.

Rivers and streams in New Jersey were expected to peak over the next two days, reaching record or near-record flood levels because the ground was already saturated, officials said.

It was not immediately clear how much Irene would cost, but in New Jersey alone the damage was expected in "the billions of dollars," Christie told NBC's "Meet the Press."

With thousands of homeowners enduring flooding there will be questions over whether insurance policies offer cover and whether the federal government's flood program can handle the claims. All this came at a time of austerity in Washington and in cash-strapped states.

New York City's 8.5 million people are not used to hurricanes, but authorities took unprecedented steps to prepare, including ordering mandatory evacuations and a total shutdown of mass transit systems. That will have had a major economic impact.

About 370,000 city residents who had been ordered to leave their homes were told they could return on Sunday afternoon.

Most bridges, tunnels, subways and city buses will be functioning normally. But the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road would remain suspended, stranding commuters.

Rail service from New Jersey, home to hundreds of thousands of people who travel into New York City each day, was still out, although limited bus services were expected to resume.


Many people who normally commute into Manhattan will find it extremely difficult to get to work on Monday, though financial markets were expected to open as normal, albeit with reduced volume.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there were no reports of deaths or injuries in the city, though there were some close calls. On Staten Island, firefighters with boats rescued more than 60 people including three babies from 21 homes flooded with five feet of water.

While it weakened before it hit New York, the swirling storm still packed a wallop, especially in districts such as the Rockaways peninsula, a low-lying strip of land exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on the southeastern flank of the city.

Authorities closed three bridges leading to the peninsula before the storm.

"It was like being in the hull of a ship," said Patricia Keane, 42, who stayed in her Rockaway home and lost power but used backup generators to supply electricity to herself and four neighbors, who all had flooded basements.

New Jersey was hard hit by flooding, downed trees and power outages. More than 100 dams were being monitored for spills from high water, and one downstream town, High Bridge, was evacuated, Christie said.

The storm knocked out power to at least 650,000 people and more than 15,000 people were in shelters around the state, with 3,000 more being evacuated from 25 medical facilities.

Four people were killed in Pennsylvania due to the hurricane, including two men killed by falling trees, a state official said. That brought to 20 the total number of people killed by the storm in addition to three killed in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico.

In North Carolina, where authorities confirmed at least six storm-related deaths, Governor Bev Perdue was expected to request a federal disaster declaration.

The storm dumped up to eight inches of rain on the Washington region, but the capital avoided major damage.

The impact was felt harder on New York's Long Island, a bedroom community close to New York City that becomes a playground for the rich in more remote areas further east.

After Irene, weather watchers were keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Jose, which formed near Bermuda.

This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in U.S. history, with $35 billion in losses so far from floods, tornadoes and heat waves.

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