Monday, August 29, 2011

Flooding 'an ongoing concern' amid Irene's destruction

Brattleboro, Vermont (CNN) -- As a much-weakened Irene entered Canada, it left parts of the U.S. East Coast still grappling Monday with dangerous floodwaters, widespread power outages and stranded residents.

At least 21 deaths in nine states were blamed on Irene, which fizzled to a post-tropical cyclone and headed over eastern Canada on Monday.

"Hurricane Irene's damage is likely to be characterized more by the amount of inland flooding, storm surge and treefall than by direct wind damage, and flooding is still an ongoing concern for many states in the Northeast," said Risk Management Solutions, Inc., which tracks natural catastrophes.

About 3 million customers were without power along Irene's path.

In Washington, President Barack Obama vowed, "We will make sure folks have all the support they need." He added that "it will take time" to recover.

They may need that support from North Carolina through New England, where a number of homes, businesses, roads and bridges were torn apart by floodwaters.

Some of the worst flooding since 1927 ravaged Vermont's normally tranquil countryside, turning babbling brooks into turbulent rivers and knocking homes from their foundations.

In Wilmington, Vermont, a young woman who had been standing near a river was swept away by the water. Her body was recovered Monday.

In all, 260 roads were affected, many of them underwater, Vermont's Emergency Management Agency said Monday.

Four to six covered bridges were destroyed and others were washed out, it said.

In the capital city of Montpelier, water crested overnight at 19.5 feet, just shy of the 20-foot prediction, but levels throughout the state were receding Monday morning.

The emergency management headquarters flooded overnight and was evacuated and relocated from Waterbury to Burlington, approximately 20 miles away.

"We never see this sort of thing in Vermont," said CNN iReporter Jesse Stone of White River Junction, where the covered bridge was flooded. "For the people who are saying that Irene was disappointing, maybe, because they didn't get the sort of wind and damage they expected, I just want to remind them that, in places like Vermont, we really got it pretty hard."

In North Carolina, more than 340,000 customers were without power Monday, down from more than 440,000 on Sunday night, the state's division of emergency management said.

Dominion Power reported more than 600,000 customers were without power in Virginia and northern North Carolina.

As many as 200 residents were isolated and without power Monday on Ocracoke Island, near where Irene had first made landfall as a hurricane on Saturday. Supply transport to Ocracoke was hampered as ocean waves dislodged large chunks of a key roadway.

Dunes at Ocracoke's northern end "have apparently been spread across the road, so no one yet knows how badly the pavement is damaged," said Clayton Gaskill, manager of Ocracoke's tiny FM radio station WOVV.

And in Prattsville, New York, seven Brooklyn families who thought they had escaped the storm's wrath were stranded Monday in the Catskill Mountains after bridges crumbled around them.

"We're sitting in one room, and it's a horrible situation and there is no way out," said Irina Noveck, who was stuck along with 22 other adults and children. "Kids are getting scared, food is getting spoiled."

In all, more than 8,500 people awoke Monday morning in Red Cross shelters up and down the East Coast, a spokesman said.

But life along much of the East Coast was expected to return to normal Monday, as subway services resumed on all 22 lines in New York City, and the three major airports in the area reopened after thousands of flights were canceled over the weekend. Flight schedules were expected to normalize slowly and passengers were urged to check with their airlines before going to the airport.

Still, many workers appeared to have taken Monday off: Penn Station was largely empty during what is usually the morning rush.

Amtrak had some service in the Northeast, but much was canceled.

The New York Stock Exchange opened on time.

Across Pennsylvania, 225,000 customers were without power Monday, according to Cathy Engel, a spokeswoman for PECO, which serves the Greater Philadelphia region. That was down from a total of nearly 500,000, she said.

The U.S. government estimated that the cost from wind damage alone will exceed $1 billion. Downed power lines left more than 4 million customers without electricity during Irene's weekend journey up the East Coast.

"The impacts of this storm will be felt for some time, and the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer," Obama said Sunday evening from Washington.

In New Jersey -- which had called for the evacuation of more than 1 million people from the shore -- initial fears about coastal flooding gave way to fresh concerns about inland flooding, as an array of rivers and creeks eclipsed flood stages and continued to rise Monday.

That left residents like Guy Pascarello, whose family's Secaucus home of 40 years was declared uninhabitable after it became inundated by 3-foot-high waters, trying to figure out what to do next.

"This is all new ground," Pascarello said. "The good news is that it's just stuff. This is a home and we love our home, but it's just things."

Even locations well inland, such as Princeton Junction, about halfway between New York City and Princeton, saw 12-foot waters that covered roads and bridges, resident Edward Picco said Sunday.

In Jersey City, CNN iReporter Adam Rice shot video showing that, during the height of the storm, water on the boardwalk rose to knee level.

Along the shore in Long Beach, New York, water poured underneath the boardwalk and into the city's downtown.

Outside Philadelphia, meanwhile, waters climbed to street-sign levels in Darby, with the water sending "couches, furniture, all kinds of stuff floating down the street," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said. Two buildings collapsed in Philadelphia, Nutter told reporters, but no one was hurt.

Officials reported six deaths in North Carolina, four in Virginia, four in Pennsylvania, two in New York and one each in Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, New Jersey and Vermont. Authorities were trying to determine whether another death reported in New York is connected to the storm.

Connecticut emergency management spokesman Scott Devico said one man was missing in river waters in the inland town of Bristol, while two people were unaccounted for in East Haven after their home was swept away.

In North Carolina, where Irene dropped more than 15 inches of rain in some places, 2,500 people on Hatteras Island who did not heed calls for them to leave before Irene struck were without a way to leave on Monday. Emergency ferry service was expected to begin later in the day. On the island, Highway 12 was chopped into pieces by the pounding surf.

The U.S. Navy was sending three warships to help with search-and-rescue efforts along the coast.

In Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, firefighters -- blocked by floodwaters -- were unable to reach a house that caught fire; it burned to the ground.

Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, vowed Sunday that authorities would work with those affected by Irene.

"When the disaster comes off the news and no one is paying attention, we still don't go home," he said. "We know we've got a lot of work ahead of us."
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