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Flood worries and some relief in Irene's wake

By Samantha Gross and Beth Fouhy

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Aug. 28 2011 10:05 p.m. MDT

Janie Gibbs helps clean up a friend's destroyed home Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011 after it was hit by Hurricane Irene Saturday in Columbia, N.C. The storm killed at least 14 people and left 4 million homes and businesses without power. It unloaded more than a foot of water on North Carolina and spun off tornadoes in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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.

Slowly, the East Coast surveyed the damage — up to $7 billion by one private estimate. The center of Irene crossed into Canada late Sunday, but 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. Flooding was widespread in Vermont, and hundreds of people were told to leave the capital, Montpelier, which could get flooded twice: once by Irene and once by a utility trying to save an overwhelmed dam.

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 subway service, shut down for the first time by a natural disaster, will be partially restored Monday, though it warned riders to expect long lines and long waits. Philadelphia restarted its trains and buses.

"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 on Monday, 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 late Sunday, it was down to 50 mph. Only tropical storm warnings for the south coast of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia remained in effect late Sunday, and those were expected to be lifted early Monday.

"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.

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