Much of US northeast paralyzed by Irene flooding

WEST DOVER, Vt./WEST CALDWELL, N.J - Vermont planned to airlift food and water to inland towns cut off by Hurricane Irene, which left much of the US northeast paralyzed on Tuesday two days after causing the worst flooding in decades.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 30 Aug 2011, 9:23 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:41 PM

Irene killed about 40 people when it dumped 5 to 15 inches (12 to 38 cm) of rain over a 24- to 36-hour period on Saturday and Sunday while it raged northward from North Carolina though the populous East Coast.

Swollen rivers were still cresting on Tuesday and flood plains remained under water in northeastern states that were already soaked by an unusually wet summer.

Utilities restored electricity to roughly half the 6.7 million customers who had power knocked out, and New York City mass transit and air travel crept back to normal. Irene hit over the weekend as a hurricane, then weakened to a tropical storm over New England and dissipated after tracking into Canada.

Hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged, some swept away in the torrent.

In the city’s New Jersey suburbs, flood victims anxiously waited for waters to recede while New York City buzzed anew, slowed only temporarily by an unprecedented preemptive shutdown of its mass transit system and an evacuation order.

Vermonters already beaten down by the prolonged US economic slump saw homes washed away by the floods, then were forced to cope with washed out roads that isolated rural communities and complicated recovery from the state’s worst flooding in more than 80 years.

“Economically, I’m devastated,” said Betsey Reagan, owner of Dot’s Diner in West Dover, Vermont. “Who knows what is going to happen, how long it is going to take to take to get all this lost. We’ll miss the foliage season, who knows what the winter is going to be like. Tourists can’t come if the roads aren’t open.”

The timing of the storm, at the end of summer and before the Labor Day holiday weekend, was particularly troubling for businesses whose peak season comes in the fall and winter when visitors flock to see leaves turn colors and for skiing.

Some 260 Vermont roads remained closed and the state was beginning to deploy crews of workers, backed up by the National Guard, to repair them.

The state planned to distribute food and water to towns cut off from supplies due to road outages. In some cases those supplies would be airlifted in, said Mark Bosma, a spokesman for the Vermont Division of Emergency Management.

Meanwhile New Jersey residents continued to bail out flooded basements and clear trees and branches from the streets. Many roads remained impassable because of flooding.

“I guess I’m going to head home and wait a couple more days,” said textile company worker Joe Dilizia, 70, could not get to his job on Tuesday morning because the main road in town was turned into a lake. “It all depends on the river as it starts to recede.”

Irene killed at least 38 people in 11 states, in addition to three who died in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico when the storm was still in the Caribbean, authorities said.

Total economic damage could reach $20 billion, Standard & Poor’s Senior Economist Beth Ann Bovino said. Hundreds of thousands of homes suffered damage, raising questions about how much would be covered by insurance as many homeowner policies do not cover flood damage.

US President Barack Obama pledged aid for cash-strapped states and cities, but the federal money was not expected to cover all the costs for local jurisdictions already facing a fiscal crisis.

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