Hurricane Irene: 'The worst of the storm has passed'
Federal officials said Sunday morning that the worst of the storm that swept through the Eastern Seaboard had largely passed, but still threatened to flood parts of New England as it continued to move north.
Hurricane Irene, which made landfall on the North Carolina coast Saturday morning and spent the day churning through coastal towns along the mid-Atlantic coast, was downgraded to a tropical storm Sunday. Wind speeds dropped to about 65 miles per hour as the storm made its way over Long Island and New York.
"We have a ways to go, but I think it is safe to say that the worst of the storm, at least up to and including New York and New Jersey, has passed," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a briefing at FEMA headquarters in Washington.
Even though the storm has now been downgraded, it poses no less of a threat to communities in its path, Napolitano said. "We're not out of the woods yet. Irene remains a large and potentially dangerous storm. Hazards still persist in communities that have already seen the storm pass."
National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said the storm was likely to produce flooding as it continued to move through the Northeast.
"Our anticipation is with the rainfall going up into the river systems of New Hampshire and Vermont that we could see record flooding," in those areas, Read said.
The storm’s slow and steady churn along the mid-Atlantic coast may have spared the New York metropolitan area, Read said.
After making landfall in South Carolina, Irene, "never was far off land the rest of its trek up the Eastern Seaboard," Read said. "And that kept it from getting stronger," as it approached New York.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said his office was focused on assisting local efforts to ensure that affected areas were safe and would be assessing the extent of the damage in the days to come.
"Our focus really is now on the next 72 hours," Fugate said. "We may not yet have all the impacts from the storm as rivers continue to come up."
-- Kim Geiger in Washington
Photo: "I think it is safe to say that the worst of the storm, at least up to and including New York and New Jersey, has passed," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a briefing at FEMA headquarters. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press