Numerous precautions had been taken before the hurricane reached the Northeast of the USA. New York and Boston temporarily shut down their subway systems. East Coast-bound trains and plains had stopped running, and millions were asked to evacuate low-lying areas of New York City and New Jersey.
But by Sunday morning, Irene had passed over a good portion of the East Coast in a less dramatic fashion than anticipated. And as Irene was downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm, some charged that the whole ordeal had been over-hyped by the newsmedia and by government officials.
Air travel at New York City’s three major area airports slowly resumed service, and financial markets operated normally, although volumes were low. More than 12,000 East Coast flights were canceled and it could take three days to restore normal service, the industry group Air Transport Association said.
New York City subways returned to service, but many commuter lines to the city and national train carrier Amtrak were disrupted due to tracks that were flooded or blocked with fallen trees and debris.
At the same time the storm churned up the U.S. East Coast over the weekend killing at least 38 people in 11 states, in addition to three who died in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico when the storm was still in the Caribbean, authorities said.
“I keep being somewhat disappointed by some of the national press that think because Manhattan wasn’t hit, everything is fine. We’re not Manhattan, but we have human lives here in Vermont, too,” Governor Peter Shumlin said after surveying washed out roads and bridges and homes bobbing in the water.
Vermont officials called it the state’s worst flooding since 1927. In many cases, the moment of maximum danger arrived well after the storm had passed, as rainwater made its way into rivers and streams and turned them into torrents. Irene dumped up to 11 inches of rain on Vermont and more than 13 in parts of New York.
The 11-state death toll, which had stood at 21 as of Sunday night, rose sharply as bodies were pulled from floodwaters and people were electrocuted by downed power lines.
“We were expecting heavy rains,” said Bobbi-Jean Jeun of Clarksville, a hamlet near Albany, N.Y. “We were expecting flooding. We weren’t expecting devastation. It looks like somebody set a bomb off.”
“It’s going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude,” President Barack Obama told reporters in Washington. “The effects are still being felt across much of the country, including in New England and states like Vermont where there’s been an enormous amount of flooding.
“I’m going to make sure that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other agencies are doing everything in their power to help people on the ground,” he said.
Total economic damage could reach $20 billion, Standard & Poor’s Senior Economist Beth Ann Bovino said. Hundreds of thousands of homes suffered damage, raising questions about how much would be covered by insurance as many homeowner policies do not cover flood damage.
“This is the worst flood we have ever had,” said Mike Chiafulio, 52, who could only watch as the water continued to rise around his mother’s house. He said the flooding exceeding what he remembered from notable floods in 1968 and 1984.
Hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey could be without electricity, water supplies or gas for days to come, their comfortable towns strewn with felled trees and branches blocking main roadways.
Fairfield, New Jersey, home to more than 7,000 people, was in danger of becoming an island as flooding from the Passaic River was expected to surpass that of a memorable flood in 1984, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.
For many people, the aftermath could prove more painful than the storm itself. In North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore along the Outer Banks on Saturday before heading for New York and New England, 1,000 people were still in emergency shelters, awaiting word on their homes.
Throughout the Northeast, hundreds of roads were impassable because of flooding or fallen trees, and some bridges had simply given way, including a 156-year-old hand-hewn, wooden, covered bridge across Schoharie Creek in Blenheim, N.Y. In all, more than a dozen towns in Vermont and at least three in New York remained cut off by flooded roads and bridges. [via Reuters and Huff Post]