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Irene's Aftermath

Death toll across states rises to 40

By Jennifer Peltz
Associated Press / August 30, 2011

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WOODSTOCK, N.Y. - The full measure of Hurricane Irene’s fury came into focus yesterday as the death toll climbed to 40, communities battled huge floods, and millions faced the dispiriting prospect of several days without electricity.

From North Carolina to Maine, communities cleaned up and took stock of the uneven and hard-to-predict costs of a storm that spared the nation’s biggest city a nightmare, only to deliver a historic wallop to towns well inland.

As of last night, power companies had restored electricity for almost half the 8 million homes and businesses that lost power over the weekend. But in areas of severe damage, it could take weeks for power to be fully restored.

The storm smashed power poles, ripped transmission wires, and flooded electrical stations over thousands of square miles. Most of the damage came from downed trees.

In New York City, where people had braced for a disaster-movie scene of water swirling around skyscrapers, the subways and buses were up and running again in time for the morning commute yesterday.

But streams raged out of control in upstate New York and Vermont.

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 inches in parts of New York.

“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.’’

The 11-state death toll rose sharply as bodies were pulled from flood water and people were electrocuted by downed power lines.

The tally of Irene’s destruction mounted, too. An apparently vacant home exploded in an evacuated, flooded area in Pompton Lakes, N.J., early yesterday, and firefighters had to battle the flames from a boat.

In the Albany, N.Y., suburb of Guilderland, police rescued two people yesterday after their car was swept away.

Rescuers found them three hours later, clinging to trees along the swollen creek.

“It’s going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude,’’ President Obama warned as he promised the government would do everything in its power to help people get back on their feet.

For many people, the aftermath could prove more painful than the storm.

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.

Up and down the Eastern Seaboard, commuters and vacationers found their travel plans scrambled.

Airlines warned it would be days before the thousands of passengers stranded by Irene find their way home. Some Amtrak service in the Northeast was suspended.

Commuter trains between New Jersey and New York City were not running. Trains between the city and its northern suburbs were also disrupted.

Kris and Jennifer Sylvester of Brooklyn sat on a bench in the town center in Woodstock, N.Y., with luggage at their feet and their daughters, age 4 and 9, holding signs that said “Need a Ride 2 NYC’’ and “Help Us, No Bus, No Train.’’ They rode an Amtrak train out for a long weekend in the country, but were unable to get home.

“We’re hoping for anything,’’ Jennifer Sylvester said.

In upstate New York, authorities were closely watching major dams holding back drinking water reservoirs.

Throughout the region, hundreds of roads were impassable because of flooding or fallen trees, and some bridges had simply given way, including a 156-year-old covered bridge across Schoharie Creek in Blenheim, N.Y.

Still, there were glimmers of good news. In Pennsylvania, the Delaware River largely remained in its banks, cresting several feet lower than feared.

The forecast for flooding on the Mohawk River in New York also eased at Schenectady, N.Y., where officials had worried that high water might threaten the city’s drinking water and sewage treatment plant.

Early estimates put Irene’s damage at $7 billion to $10 billion, much smaller than the impact of monster storms such as Hurricane Katrina, which did more than $100 billion in damage.

While hard-hit regions, such as the North Carolina coast, will suffer from lost tourism, there should be a small boost to the economy from rebuilding homes, repairing cars, and fixing streets and bridges, analysts said.

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