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PATH OF DESTRUCTION

Irene leaves estimated $7b in damages, kills 21

By Beth Fouhy and Samantha Gross
Associated Press / August 29, 2011

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NEW YORK - Stripped of hurricane rank, Tropical Storm Irene spent the last of its fury yesterday, leaving treacherous flooding and millions without power - but an unfazed New York and relief that it was nothing like the nightmare authorities feared.

Slowly, the East Coast surveyed the damage, up to $7 billion by one private estimate. The center of Irene crossed into Canada late yesterday, but for many in the United States 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 Obama said yesterday afternoon.

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.

In Philadelphia, the mayor lifted the city’s first state of emergency since 1986.

The storm was blamed for the collapses of seven buildings, but no one was hurt and everyone was accounted for. People kept their eyes on the rivers. The Schuylkill was expected to reach 15 feet.

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 and said it hoped to have its subway, shut down for the first time by a natural disaster, rolling again today, though maybe not in time for the morning commute. Philadelphia restarted its trains and buses.

“All in all,’’ said Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, “we are in pretty good shape.’’

At least 21 people died, most of them when trees crashed through roofs or onto cars.

The main New York power company, Consolidated Edison, did not 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.

The center of Irene passed over Central Park at midmorning, with the storm packing 65 mile-per-hour winds.

By evening, with its giant figure-six shape brushing over New England and drifting east, it was down to 50 miles per hour. It was expected to drift into Canada.

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,’’ Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey 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 5-ton truck to ferry people away from their homes as the Passaic River neared its expected crest last 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.

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 yesterday afternoon.

The director of the Canadian Hurricane Centre, Chris Fogarty, warned of flooding and wind damage in eastern Canada and said the heaviest rainfall was expected in Quebec, where about 250,000 homes were without power.

In the United States, 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.

Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center, called it a textbook case.

“They knew they had to get people out early,’’ he said. “I think absolutely lives were saved.’’

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 in the afternoon, and flights resumed around Washington, which took a glancing blow from the storm.

In the South, authorities still were not sure how much damage had been done. Governor Beverly Perdue of North Carolina said some parts of her state were unreachable.

Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia had initially warned that Irene could be a catastrophic monster with record storm surges of up to 8 feet. But the mayor of Virginia Beach suggested on Twitter that the damage was not as bad as feared, as did the mayor of Ocean City, Md.

The 21 deaths attributed to the storm included six in North Carolina, four in Virginia, four in Pennsylvania, two in New York, two in rough surf in Florida, and one each in Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey.

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