Tropical Storm Irene: New York Escapes the Worst as Irene Moves On

New York City avoided disaster on Sunday as Hurricane Irene weakened into a tropical storm with mayor Michael Bloomberg, saying the city had ‘dodged the bullet.’

  • A fallen tree lies in the road in Parkchester, Bronx, New York City. Photo and caption by Sharese Ann FrederickA fallen tree lies in the road in Parkchester, Bronx, New York City. Photo and caption by Sharese Ann Frederick
  • Tropical Storm Irene: Dog is swimming in East River Park early on Sunday. Photo and caption by David Shankbone/FlickrTropical Storm Irene: Dog is swimming in East River Park early on Sunday. Photo and caption by David Shankbone/Flickr
  • Tropical Storm Irene: A woman crosses an empty street in East River Park early on Sunday. Photo and caption by David Shankbone/FlickrTropical Storm Irene: A woman crosses an empty street in East River Park early on Sunday. Photo and caption by David Shankbone/Flickr
  • Jeep is stranded in deep water on Bay Shore in New York. Photo and caption by Hassan MaynardJeep is stranded in deep water on Bay Shore in New York. Photo and caption by Hassan Maynard
  • Tropical Storm Irene: Flooding along East River Tennis Court in New York City. Photo and caption by David ShankboneTropical Storm Irene: Flooding along East River Tennis Court in New York City. Photo and caption by David Shankbone
  • Flooding along 12th Ave between W.139th and 135th. Photo and caption by Dave Bledsoe/FlickrFlooding along 12th Ave between W.139th and 135th. Photo and caption by Dave Bledsoe/Flickr
  • Hurricane Irene: Scenes of Devastation In West Harlem. Tree Falls in Montefiore Park. Some actual storm damage from Hurricane Irene, no one was injured, fire and police responded. Photo and caption by Dave Bledsoe/FlickrHurricane Irene: Scenes of Devastation In West Harlem. Tree Falls in Montefiore Park. Some actual storm damage from Hurricane Irene, no one was injured, fire and police responded. Photo and caption by Dave Bledsoe/Flickr
  • Hurricane Irene: Flooding along 12th Ave between W.139th and 135th. Photo and caption by Dave Bledsoe/FlickrHurricane Irene: Flooding along 12th Ave between W.139th and 135th. Photo and caption by Dave Bledsoe/Flickr
  • Hurricane Irene: A few hours after the eye finally passed over. A guy walking his dog in the water was the big story down by Fairway. Photo and caption by Lazzo51/FlickrHurricane Irene: A few hours after the eye finally passed over. A guy walking his dog in the water was the big story down by Fairway. Photo and caption by Lazzo51/Flickr
  • Hurricane Irene: Flooding along 12th Ave between W.139th and 135th. Well, since this spot is lower than a snake's ass in a wagon rut I suppose so. People seem to be enjoying this non-emergency. Crews are pumping the water out. Photo and caption by Dave Bledsoe/FlickrHurricane Irene: Flooding along 12th Ave between W.139th and 135th. Well, since this spot is lower than a snake's ass in a wagon rut I suppose so. People seem to be enjoying this non-emergency. Crews are pumping the water out. Photo and caption by Dave Bledsoe/Flickr

Tropical Storm Irene swept through the New York City area on Sunday morning lacking anywhere near the force that had been feared, but still causing at least three deaths, cutting power to more than a million people, toppling trees and flooding some parts of the city and its suburbs.

While New York City escaped without too much damage, its suburbs appeared not to have fared nearly as well. Wide sections of Long Island, Westchester County, New Jersey and Connecticut faced blackouts on Sunday, in addition to blocked roadways and the prospect of further flooding.

At least three people in the area died in connection to the storm. In New Jersey, a 20-year-old woman was found dead on Sunday morning in her submerged car on a flooded rural road in Salem County, eight hours after she called the police to say she was trapped in her vehicle with water up to her neck.

In Spring Valley, N.Y., in Rockland County, a man was electrocuted after coming in contact with a downed power line. And in Prospect, Conn., one person was killed in a fire that investigators believe was sparked by fallen wires.

Elsewhere, emergency officials scrambled to respond to flash floods. On Staten Island, firefighters used boats to rescue more than 60 people from a flooded neighborhood; in Westchester, National Guard troops in Hummers and five-ton trucks planned to travel to Long Island to help with clean-up efforts.

At least 14 people were killed as Hurricane Irene barrelled up the eastern seaboard over the weekend, and more fatalities were expected to be confirmed.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says residents who had been ordered out of their homes in low-lying areas will be allowed to return Sunday afternoon. He says the evacuation order put in place for Hurricane Irene will be lifted as of 3 p.m.

He had ordered more than 370,000 people out of those areas. They were mostly in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Some people had already started making their way back to their homes. Some defied the order and didn’t evacuate in the first place.

Consolidated Edison, the city’s biggest power company, said it was optimistic it would not have to cut electricity to save its equipment. The Sept. 11 museum, a centrepiece of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, said on Twitter that none of its memorial trees were lost.

And Irene made landfall as a tropical storm with winds of 104 km/h, not the 161 km/h hurricane that had churned up the East Coast and dumped 30 centimetres of water or more on less populated areas in the South.

“Just another storm,” said Scott Beller, who was at a Lowe’s store in the Long Island hamlet of Centereach, looking for a generator because his power was out.

Irene weakened to winds of 96 km/h, well below the 119 km/h dividing line between a hurricane and tropical storm. The system was still massive and powerful, forming a figure six that covered the Northeast. It was moving twice as fast as the day before.

The storm killed at least 14 people and left four million homes and businesses without power. It unloaded more than 30 centimetres of water on North Carolina and spun off tornadoes in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

And even after the storm passes in the Northeast, the danger will persist. Rivers could crest after the skies the clear, and the ground in most of the region is saturated from a summer of persistent rain.

But from North Carolina to New Jersey, the storm appeared to have fallen well short of the doomsday predictions. Across the Eastern Seaboard, at least 2.3 million people were given orders to evacuate, though it was not clear how many obeyed them.

Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center, said the storm wasn’t just a lot of hype with little fury. He praised authorities, from meteorologists to emergency managers at all levels, for taking the threat seriously. “They knew they had to get people out early,” Mayfield said. “I think absolutely lives were saved.”

In Virginia Beach, the city posted on Twitter late Saturday that initial reports were promising, with the resort area suffering minimal damage. Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan posted wind readings and reported: “Scattered power outages. No reports of major damage!”

Charlie Koetzle was up at 4 a.m. on Ocean City’s boardwalk. Asked about damage, he mentioned a sign that blew down. “The beach is still here, and there is lots of it,” he said. “I don’t think it was as bad as they said it was going to be.”

Under its first hurricane warning in a quarter-century, the country’s largest city had taken extensive precautions. There were sandbags on Wall Street, tarps over subway grates and plywood on storefront windows. The subway stopped rolling. Broadway and baseball were cancelled.

John F. Kennedy International Airport recorded a tropical storm-force wind gust of 93 km/h. Kennedy, where on a normal day tens of thousands of passengers would be arriving from points around the world, was quiet. So were LaGuardia and Newark airports. So was Grand Central Terminal, where the great hall was cleared out entirely. Part of the Holland Tunnel was closed.

New York firefighters made dozens of water rescues, including three babies, and said they were searching bungalows that had floated down the street in parts of Queens. The wind and rain were expected to diminish by afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center said the centre of the huge storm reached land near Little Egg Inlet, N.J., at 5:35 a.m. The eye previously reached land Saturday in North Carolina before returning to the Atlantic, tracing the East Coast shoreline.[via The Telegraph (UK), The Huff Post and NY Times]

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