Flood worries and some relief in Irene's wake

[9:05 p.m.]

The federal government has more than doubled the number of North Carolina counties eligible for federal financial assistance tp help state and local governments protect the public and property following Hurricane Irene.

Gov. Beverly Perdue's office said President Obama expanded Sunday to 34 eastern counties his federal disaster declaration for North Carolina. He had issued a declaration for 16 eastern counties Thursday before the storm arrived.

The additional counties are Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Camden, Chowan, Columbus, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Hertford, Lenoir, Martin, New Hanover, Pasquotank, Pender, Washington and Wayne.

[8:57 p.m.]

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. 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.

"This is not over," President Barack Obama said from the Rose Garden.

Flooding was widespread in Vermont, where parts of Brattleboro, Bennington and several other communities, were submerged. One woman was swept away and feared drowned in the Deerfield River.

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 it hoped to have its subway, shut down for the first time by a natural disaster, rolling again Monday, though maybe not in time for the morning commute. 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.

[3:37 p.m.]

Damage from Irene appears to be less than feared, a bit of reassuring news for a fragile economy.

Insured damage from Irene will range between $2 billion and $3 billion, and the total losses will likely be about $7 billion, according to preliminary estimates by Kinetic Analysis Corp. a consulting firm. Both figures are less than had been feared and will likely have little impact on America's $14 trillion economy.

"Irene left several places with black eyes, but it doesn't seem to have delivered an economic knockout," said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody's Analytics.

The estimates from Kinetic Analysis, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, suggest that Irene will have caused far less insured damage than the $6 billion the industry paid out after Hurricane Isabel struck the East Coast in 2003.

The long-term costs of Irene will grow as storm-ravaged areas deal with lost business, insurance claims, dislocated workers and transportation disruptions — costs that will take months to fully calculate.

[1:37 p.m.]

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says residents who had been ordered out of their homes in low-lying areas will be allowed to return Sunday afternoon.

Bloomberg says the evacuation order put in place for Hurricane Irene will be lifted as of 3 p.m. He had ordered more than 370,000 people out of those areas. They were mostly in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Not everyone waited, and people had already started making their way back to their homes. Some defied the order and didn't evacuate in the first place.

[12:53 p.m.]

Firefighters rescued dozens of people from flooded homes on Staten Island, residents removed garbage and debris from clogged sewer gates and once-quiet roads became busier soon after Irene crossed New York as a powerful tropical storm.

In Queens, bungalows floated down the street and emergency crews were checking to make sure no one was inside. There was heavy flooding in other parts of the city, but Manhattan was mostly spared.

Coney Island boardwalk landmarks like the red parachute drop tower, the Cyclone roller coaster, and Dino's Wonder Wheel appeared intact. Residents there pitched in to dislodge debris from the sewer gates.

"It's working," said Daniels Stevens, as a small whirlpool appeared where the water was draining out. "When we started, the water was almost up over the hub caps on that parked car."

Irene weakened after landfall over the North Carolina coast Saturday, but it was still a massive storm with sustained winds of up to 65 mph as it hit the city. Coinciding with a tide that was higher than normal, water levels rose, but not as high as anticipated. It was quickly receding.

In Manhattan, some streets were flooded on the east and west side of the island, closing major thoroughfares of the Henry Hudson Parkway and the FDR Drive. The Tappan Zee Bridge was closed because of flooding on the highway leading up to it.

Twelve-year-old Alex Cuglewski said he set his alarm last night for 3 a.m. so he could get up and watch Irene from his family's eight-floor oceanfront apartment in a stretch of Rockaway Beach where everyone was supposed to evacuate.

"It wasn't that bad. People evacuated for no reason," he said. Waves went up to the boardwalk but did not spill into his street.

Water from New York Harbor washed the edge the sidewalk at Battery Park along the tip of the island. About a foot of water lapped over the wall of the marina in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange in lower Manhattan. A low-lying section of the promenade hugging Battery Park was also submerged, and much of the operational equipment for the ferries out to Staten and Ellis Island damaged. It could take a day to get up and running.

But the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum sent a Twitter message that read: "None of the memorial trees were lost." About 400 trees have been planted ahead of the 10th anniversary next week. And the city's biggest utility said it was cautiously optimistic that it would not be shutting down a grid that would have cut power to Wall Street and 17,000 people.

Slowly cabs started appearing downtown and residents returned despite the evacuation order.

"It was a fun little adventure. I tried not to think about the hype and take things as they came," said Zander Lassen, 37, who spent the night at a boathouse watching sailboats. "We planned on it being a little less scary than it was predicted."

Grace Tate, a Manhattan paralegal, found her herself stranded in the World Financial Center lobby with a front row seat to the hurricane.

She had been determined to make it downtown for Sunday services at Trinity Church, only to learn they'd been cancelled. Security and maintenance men who had spent the night in the building were her only company.

[11:15 a.m.]

Forecasters say Irene has weakened slightly over New York state.

The National Hurricane Center said late Sunday morning that the tropical storm's maximum sustained winds had decreased to about 60 mph.

Irene was to continue weakening as it passes over New England, and it's expected to move over eastern Canada by Sunday night. It remains a massive storm, however, with powerful winds extending more than 300 miles from the center.

Forecasters say the storm is currently centered about 10 miles west of Danbury, Conn. It is moving to the north-northeast at 26 mph.

[10:51 a.m.]

The start time of the Little League World Series championship game Sunday between Japan and California has been pushed back to 3 p.m. EDT because of Tropical Storm Irene.

Little League officials said they wanted to ensure any remnants of the storm were clear of the area. Williamsport received some rain overnight into Sunday morning but was on the outer fringes of the storm system.

The game was initially scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday. Then, on Friday, Little League moved the start time to noon based on early forecast predictions before deciding again Sunday morning to push it back to 3 p.m.

Little League vice president Lance Van Auken said officials would monitor the Lamade Stadium field. Little League installed a new drainage system two years ago.

[10:44 a.m.]

The headline-generating Irene, the hurricane-tuned-tropical storm that was pummeling her way up the Eastern seaboard on Sunday, will have little impact on tonight's MTV Video Music Awards show, according to MTV President Stephen Friedman. He said some VMA performers from the East Coast arrived in LA early to avoid the storm and resulting airport disruptions. But he was hopeful viewer disruption would be minimal.

"Our hope is our audience is cuddled up with their family and friends and don't want to be outside and want to watch the best night in music," Friedman said.

[9:51 a.m.]

The head of the nation's emergency response agency says people shouldn't underestimate the danger once Hurricane Irene passes.

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate says flooding, weakened trees and downed power lines pose a danger even after the storm moves north up the Atlantic Coast.

Fugate is urging people not to drive around and sightsee after the storm has passed through their areas. His advice: Stay inside, stay off the roads, and let the power crews do their job.

Fugate made the round of the Sunday talk shows as the storm moved through New York City and the Northeast.

[9:31 a.m.]

Authorities say a man has been found dead in his Pitt County home after winds from Hurricane Irene toppled a tree onto the house.

Pitt County spokeswoman Kiara Jones said Ayden police found the victim as they checked on residents after the storm passed. She did not release his name or age.

His is the fifth death authorities directly attribute to Irene. A Sampson County mother and a man in Nash County also were killed by falling trees and limbs. A teen in Goldsboro and a man in Pitt County were killed in traffic wrecks.

Also, rescuers in New Hanover County are still looking for a man who fell or jumped Friday night into the Cape Fear River.

[7:52 a.m.]

Barely a hurricane but massive and packed with rain, Irene lumbered onto the New Jersey shore Sunday morning on its way toward pummeling New York, which turned eerily quiet as the city hunkered down.

The National Hurricane Center said the center of the huge storm reached land near Little Egg Inlet, about 85 miles south-southwest of New York, at 5:35 a.m. The eye previously reached land Saturday in North Carolina before returning to the Atlantic, straddling the East Coast as it flooded towns, killed at least eight people and knocked out power to more than 3 million homes and businesses.

Broadway, baseball and most other things were shuttered in New York, where the transit system stopped because of weather for the first time in history. Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned late Saturday that no matter whether residents of low-lying areas heeded his calls to evacuate, "The time for evacuation is over. Everyone should now go inside and stay inside."

Hours before the storm's center was to reach New York, a 58 mph wind gust hit John F. Kennedy International Airport and a storm surge of more than 3.5 feet was reported in New York Harbor.

National Weather Service meteorologist Ashley Sears said a storm surge of 4 to 8 feet was expected to rush in just before the eye crosses land. Wind and rain should start diminishing by midafternoon, but if the storm surge deluges Lower Manhattan, the water could linger for hours or even a day.

By Sunday morning, the storm had sustained winds of 75 mph, down from 100 mph on Friday. That's just 1 mph more than the 74 mph minimum for a Category 1 hurricane, the least threatening on a 1-to-5 scale.

The total extent of damage Saturday was unclear, but officials and residents in some areas were relieved to find their communities with relatively minor problems. Forecasters said the storm remained capable of causing ruinous flooding with a combination of storm surge, high tides and 6 to 12 inches of rain.

"Everything is still in effect," National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. "The last thing people should do is go outside. They need to get inside and stay in a safe place until this thing is over."

Tornadoes were reported in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, and several warnings were issued elsewhere, including New York and Philadelphia.

Irene caused flooding from North Carolina to Delaware, both from the seven-foot waves it pushed into the coast and from heavy rain. Eastern North Carolina got 10 to 14 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Virginia's Hampton Roads area was drenched with at least nine inches, with 16 reported in some spots.

More than one million of the homes and businesses without power were in Virginia and North Carolina, the first states in the path of Irene's eye. Then the storm knocked out power overnight to hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the New York City area and Connecticut.

In Virginia, three people were killed by falling trees and about 100 roads were closed. Emergency crews around the region prepared to head out at daybreak to assess the damage, though with some roads impassable and rivers still rising, it could take days.

Some held out optimism that their communities had suffered less damage than they had feared.

"I think it's a little strong to say we dodged a bullet. However, it certainly could have turned out worse for the Hampton Roads area," said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Montefusco.

In Virginia Beach, the city posted on Twitter late Saturday that initial reports were promising, with the resort area suffering minimal damage. Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan tweeted this synopsis: "Currently in OC sustained winds of 53mph and gust to 80mph. Rain total 11 inches. Scattered power outages. No reports of major damage!"

Charlie Koetzle was up at 4 a.m. on Ocean City's boardwalk. Asked about damage, he mentioned a sign that blew down.

"The beach is still here, and there is lots of it," he said. "I don't think it was as bad as they said it was going to be."

In North Carolina, where at least two people were killed, Gov. Beverly Perdue said Irene inflicted significant damage along the North Carolina coast and some areas were unreachable.

"Folks are cut off in parts of North Carolina, and obviously we're not going to get anybody to do an assessment until it's safe," she said.

Television coverage showed evidence of damage across eastern North Carolina with downed trees and toppled power lines.

A falling tree also killed one person in Maryland. A surfer and another beachgoer in Florida were killed in heavy waves caused by the storm.

The storm arrived in Washington just days after an earthquake damaged some of the capital's most famous structures, including the Washington Monument. Irene could test Washington's ability to protect its national treasures and its poor.

A nuclear reactor at Maryland's Calvert Cliffs went offline automatically when winds knocked off a large piece of aluminum siding that came into contact with the facility's main transformer late Saturday night. An "unusual event" was declared, the lowest of four emergency classifications by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but Constellation Energy Nuclear Group spokesman Mark Sullivan said the facility and all employees were safe.

Near Callway, Md., about 30 families were warned that a dam could spill over, causing significant flooding, and that they should either leave their homes or stay upstairs. St. Mary's County spokeswoman Sue Sabo said the dam was not in danger of breaching.

Irene made its official landfall just after first light near Cape Lookout, N.C., at the southern end of the Outer Banks, the ribbon of land that bows out into the Atlantic Ocean. Shorefront hotels and houses were lashed with waves, two piers were destroyed and at least one hospital was forced to run on generator power.

Across the Eastern Seaboard, at least 2.3 million people were under orders to move to somewhere safer. Thousands went to shelters and many found other places to stay, but some stayed put.

Annette Burton, 72, was asked to leave her Chester, Pa., neighborhood because of danger of rising water from a nearby creek. She said she planned to remain in the row house along with her daughter and adult grandson, although with a wary eye on the park across the street that routinely floods during heavy rains.

"I'm not a fool; if it starts coming up from the park, I'm leaving," she said. "It's the wind I'm more concerned about than anything."

As the storm's outer bands reached New York on Saturday night, two kayakers capsized and had to be rescued off Staten Island. They received summonses and a dressing-down from Bloomberg, who said at a press conference that they recklessly put rescuers' lives at risk.

Irene was the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008, and came almost six years to the day after Katrina ravaged New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005. Experts said that probably no other hurricane in American history had threatened as many people.

Airlines said 9,000 flights were canceled, including 3,000 on Saturday. The number of passengers affected could easily be millions because so many flights make connections on the East Coast.

In New York, authorities undertook the herculean job of bringing the city to a halt. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority shut down its subways, trains and buses for a natural disaster for the first time, a job that began at noon Saturday and took into late that night to complete.

On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around subway grates near the East River because of fear of flooding. Tarps were spread over other grates. Construction stopped throughout the city, and workers at the site of the World Trade Center dismantled a crane and secured equipment.

The city was far quieter than on an average Saturday. In some of the busiest parts of Manhattan, it was possible to cross a major avenue without looking, and the waters of New York Harbor, which might normally be churning from boat traffic, were quiet. About 370,000 people living in low-lying areas of the city, mostly in Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, were under orders to clear out.

New York has seen only a few hurricanes in the past 200 years. The Northeast is much more used to snowstorms - including a blizzard last December, when Bloomberg was criticized for a slow response.


Mitch Weiss reported from Nags Head, N.C. Associated Press writers contributing to this report were Tim Reynolds and Christine Armario in Miami; Bruce Shipkowski in Surf City, N.J.; Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton, N.J.; Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, N.J.; Eric Tucker in Washington; Martha Waggoner and Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, N.C.; Jessica Gresko in Ocean City, Md.; Mitch Weiss in Nags Head, N.C.; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Dena Potter in Richmond, Va.; Brock Vergakis in Virginia Beach, Va.; Samantha Bomkamp and Jonathan Fahey in New York; and Seth Borenstein in Washington.