SAMANTHA GROSS and BETH FOUHY Associated Press 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.
Spc. Adam Theriault with the Army National Guard takes a picture of a home damaged in the wake of Hurricane Irene in the Don Lee section of Arapahoe, Pamlico County, N.C. on Sunday. AP PHOTO
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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 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. “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 today, 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 drift into Canada later Sunday or early today. “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. Rivers roared in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In the Hudson Valley town of New Paltz, N.Y., so many people were gathering to watch a rising river that authorities banned alcohol sales and ordered people inside. And in Rhode Island, which has a geography thick with bays, inlets and shoreline, authorities were worried about coastal flooding at evening high tide. The entire Northeast has been drenched this summer with what has seemed like relentless rain, saturating the ground and raising the risk of flooding, even after the storm passes altogether. The storm system knocked out power for 4 1/2 million people along the Eastern Seaboard. Power companies were picking through uprooted trees and reconnecting lines in the South and had restored electricity to hundreds of thousands of people by Sunday afternoon. With the worst of the storm over, hurricane experts assessed the preparations and concluded that, far from hyping the danger, authorities had done the right thing by being cautious. In the storm’s wake, hundreds of thousands of passengers still had to get where they were going. Airlines said about 9,000 flights were canceled. Officials said the three major New York-area airports will resume most flights this morning. Philadelphia International Airport reopened Sunday afternoon, and flights resumed around Washington, which took a glancing blow from the storm. One of two nuclear reactors at Calvert Cliffs, Md., automatically went offline because of high winds. Constellation Energy Nuclear Group said the plant was safe. The casinos of Atlantic City, N.J., planned to reopen today at noon after state officials checked the integrity of the games, made sure the surveillance cameras work, and brought cash back into the cages under state supervision. All 11 casinos shut down for the storm, only the third time that has happened. In Philadelphia, the storm was blamed for the collapses of seven buildings, but no one was hurt and everyone was accounted for.