Irene cleanup begins as Vermont reels from 'epic' flooding
President Obama signed a declaration of emergency Monday for Vermont, hard hit during the night by severe and "epic" flooding caused by the last gasps of Tropical Storm Irene. Cleanup and damage assessment is underway up and down the East Coast with some estimates putting a $7-billion price tag on this storm.
The worst-case scenarios never came to pass as Hurricane Irene barrelled toward the U.S., making landfall in North Carolina and losing strength as it made its way up the East Coast. But that has been little solace to the Northeastern states. More than 22 deaths were attributed to the storm, a number that could rise as the soggy cleanup continues. Millions remain without power and stranded or displaced by floodwaters.
It will take days, perhaps more than a week to restore power to all customers.
Here's a look at where the damage stands, but it will surely change as authorities begin assembling reports:
--Vermont, already experiencing an unusually wet year, suffered widespread flooding after Irene dumped six inches of rain on the area. The fear of falling trees and downed power lines remained a concern. One person was reported killed in the storm. Hundreds of roads are flooded and closed throughout the state. Many streams and river tributaries were flooding Monday morning. Even the state’s emergency management department offices were evacuated and the department’s email system is down.
The flooding was so bad that rescue teams were unable to reach stranded residents in towns along the Winooski River, including the capital, Montpelier. President Obama's emergency declaration for the area will speed much-needed federal funds and other resources to aid cleanup.
--Millions, scattered fairly evenly along the storm's path from North Carolina to Maine, still lacked power.
--Airports reopened but thousands of frustrated passengers were scrambling to rebook travel after an estimated 11,238 flights were canceled.
--The economic toll from Irene is expected to be hefty, with insured and uninsured damages totaling $5 billion to $7 billion, according to Jose Miranda of Eqecat Inc., a catastrophic risk management firm in Oakland. That number could also rise as a more detailed assessment begins.
And it's not over yet.
"I've never seen flooding like this, especially this widespread," said Capt. Ray Keefe of the Vermont State Police, who described the flooding as "epic."
"We've lost a lot of homes; hundreds of roads, bridges have been washed away," Keefe said. "This has been a real tough one."
And late Sunday, it looked as if it might get tougher. Green Mountain Power warned it might have to release extra water from Marshfield Reservoir to save the dam, which would flood Montpelier again, the Associated Press reported.
In the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York, National Guard troops and rescue crews rushed to reach stranded citizens after floodwaters washed away bridges and made roads impassable, said Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden.
In Prattsville, a town of about 300 in the Catskill Mountains, floodwaters stranded scores of people, including about 20 marooned on the second floor of a motel. Troops used elevated Humvees to plow through the floodwaters while rescue crews used helicopters to reach the mountain communities, Groden said.
In New York, there were many signs that the relieved city was gaining back its step. Subways, which were closed over the weekend due to fears of flooding, reopened for the Monday morning commute and Wall Street was back in action.
-- Maeve Reston, Stephen Ceasar, David Zucchino and Rene Lynch
Photo: Passengers stand in line at LaGuardia Airport to rebook flights halted by Hurricane Irene. Credit: Don Emmert / AFP/Getty Images