NEW YORK (Reuters) – Vermont struggled with its worst flooding in 80 years and reconnaissance teams scoured Massachusetts to assess the devastation on Monday after a weakened Hurricane Irene slammed an already soaked New England with torrential rain.
Spared from Irene’s worst fury, New York City went back to work on Monday despite a partially crippled mass transit system and power outages that left 100,000 customers in the metropolitan area without electricity.
Overall some 5.5 million homes and business were still without power from North Carolina to Maine, and utilities said it could take days to restore electricity in more accessible areas, or up to weeks in the hardest-hit regions.
“It’s going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude,” President Barack Obama told reporters. “The effects are still being felt across much of the country, including in New England and states like Vermont where there’s been an enormous amount of flooding. … I’m going to make sure that FEMA (federal emergency management) and other agencies are doing everything in their power to help people on the ground.”
Air travel at New York City’s three major area airports slowly resumed service, and financial markets operated normally, although volumes were low.
New York City subways returned to service, though many commuter lines to the city and national carrier Amtrak were disrupted due to tracks that were flooded or blocked with fallen trees and debris.
At least 21 people died in the United States in addition to three who died in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico when the storm was still in the Caribbean.
While Irene failed to produce the devastation many had expected when New York City preemptively ordered unprecedented evacuations and a shutdown of its mass transit system on Saturday, it still left hundreds of thousands of homeowners with flood damage, especially in New Jersey.
Many northeastern rivers, already swollen from an unusually wet summer, were still cresting.
Irene is expected to have caused substantial property losses, though figures are still hard to come by because of uncertainty about wind damage, catastrophe modeling company Eqecat said on Monday.
The costly cleanup will also further strain budgets of state and local governments where economies have not recovered from the recession.
“It’s a hit but not a fatal hit,” said Joseph Seneca, a professor at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
“The ability of states to respond (to the hurricane) is more constrained,” Seneca said.
NEW ENGLAND FLOODING
Vermont was battling the state’s worst flooding since 1927 after Irene swept through as a tropical storm late on Sunday. It dumped huge amounts of rain in New Jersey and other states on its way up to Canada, where it was downgraded to post-tropical status over sparsely populated land.
“Things are bad throughout the state and we are just starting the recovery process in the light of day,” said Robert Stirewalt, a spokesman for the Vermont Emergency Management Agency. “It is too early to say what the damage will be as we assess it and we hope it won’t be more extensive than last night indicated.”
One person was killed after being swept into a river in mountainous, landlocked Vermont, which rarely sees tropical storms.
At least one of Vermont’s historic covered bridges was washed away as Irene’s rains sent rivers spilling over their banks, and 50,000 people were without power, officials said on Monday. Governor Peter Shumlin called the flooding catastrophic and several people had to be rescued.
While the sun was out on Monday, officials worried that more damage could still be done.
“The bigger rivers haven’t crested yet because the smaller brooks feed into them,” Shumlin told with Democracy Now, a daily TV/radio news program. “It means more flooding. We continue to be challenged here.”
In Massachusetts, reconnaissance teams including national guard members and emergency officials will be scouring the state on Monday to assess the flooding and other damage from Irene’s blow.
Business returned to normal for Boston’s commuters, but some Amtrak train service to points south was canceled for Monday.
In Southbridge, Massachusetts, a town employee was electrocuted from a downed power line while leaving the house, marking the first storm-related death in the state.
“It’s a tragic reminder that folks beginning the clean-up process need to do so safely,” said Scott MacLeod, spokesman for the state emergency management agency.