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Published: Tuesday, 8/30/2011

Battered East Coast begins Irene cleanup

Death toll at 40

BLADE NEWS SERVICES
Search and rescue teams search for two Hockessin men who are missing after Hurricane Irene Monday in Hockessin, Del. New Castle County Police Cpl. John Weglarz says 25-year-old Christopher Valentine of Hockessin and 25-year-old Jean Baptista of Clark, N.J., were last seen around midnight Saturday during the height of the storm. Search and rescue teams search for two Hockessin men who are missing after Hurricane Irene Monday in Hockessin, Del. New Castle County Police Cpl. John Weglarz says 25-year-old Christopher Valentine of Hockessin and 25-year-old Jean Baptista of Clark, N.J., were last seen around midnight Saturday during the height of the storm.
THE NEWS JOURNAL/SUCHAT PEDERSON Enlarge

NEW YORK — The full measure of Hurricane Irene’s fury came into focus Monday as the death toll jumped to 40, New England towns battled 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 costs of a storm that spared the nation’s biggest city a nightmare scenario, only to deliver a historic wallop to towns well inland.

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.

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. And to the surprise of many New Yorkers, things went pretty smoothly.

But mandatory evacuations remained in effect in some states, including North Carolina, where 210,000 remained without power and dozens of roads were closed or impassable because of downed trees and power lines, the governor’s office said.

Flooding posed a threat to inland counties that had received up to 15 inches of rain, state officials said.

Despite the damage, most of North Carolina’s 300 miles of coast will be open for business as the Labor Day weekend approaches, officials said.

Northern portions of the state’s Outer Banks began to reopen to tourists Monday, but southern parts of the barrier islands remained closed after Irene severed some beach communities’ only road access to the mainland.

Officials in neighboring Virginia also had a positive outlook about the upcoming holiday weekend.

“We have had some minor beach erosion … but the beaches actually opened Monday and the water quality is back to where it was,” Virginia Beach Fire Department spokesman Tim Riley said. “All the hotels are open, and we’re planning for a big Labor Day.”

The state had its worst storm damage in Richmond and other inland locales rather than on the coast. About 550,000 customers remained without power Monday afternoon, down from 1.1 million customers who lost power in the second-largest outage in Virginia history, Gov. Bob McDonnell told reporters.

Severe flooding wreaked havoc across New Jersey, but Atlantic City casinos along the shore were allowed to reopen. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said beaches in his state were “in good shape” apart from some minor erosion.

In the resort town of Ocean City, Maryland, officials reopened the city and beach to the public on Sunday and lifted all restrictions on swimming Monday afternoon.

Airports up and down the East Coast have reopened, but it will take at least several days to get hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded by the storm to their destinations.

Airports in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia bustled after being closed for part or all of the weekend. The week before Labor Day is always a busy one for airlines, so they struggled to cram travelers stranded by Irene onto packed planes.

To make matters worse, more than 1,600 flight were canceled Monday, adding to the nearly 12,000 grounded over the weekend, according to flight tracking service FlightAware.

The service estimates that 650,000 passengers have been stuck on the ground since Irene hit, but some experts think it’s a million or more.

Amtrak said it wasn’t clear when service would return along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Philadelphia after Hurricane Irene. Floodwaters remained on the tracks in Trenton, N.J., used by Amtrak and commuter trains.

Spokesman Danelle Hunter says the rail line also was dealing with power issues in some areas. And crews worked to remove trees and other debris that got pushed on the tracks by Irene.

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, aged 4 and 9, holding signs reading, “Need a Ride 2 NYC” and “Help Us, No Bus, No Train.” They rode Amtrak out for a long weekend in the country, but were unable to get home. Meanwhile, 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.

Nearly 5 million homes and businesses in a dozen states were still without electricity, and utilities warned it might be a week or more before some people got their power back.



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