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Hurricane Irene: Water May Be The Biggest Threat (LIVE UPDATES)

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HURRICANE IRENE WATER
Clouds associated with extreme outer bands of the tropical cyclone swirl above calm waters of Biscayne Bay in Miami Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011. | AP

by SETH BORENSTEIN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Forget the wind and fury. Hurricane Irene's most worrisome weapon is water.

There's just way too much of it: storm surge pushing seawater ashore and heavy rainfall causing flooding. That's not unusual with hurricanes, but with Irene there are a couple of added factors that are making meteorologists nervous.

This massive, slow-moving hurricane is forecast to soak an already drenched Northeast and may come ashore at a time when tides are unusually high, making storm surge even worse – 4 to 11 feet with waves on top, forecasters say.

"Water is the No. 1 killer," retired National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said Friday afternoon. "That's going to cause the greatest loss of life."

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Many deaths can be avoided if people leave the coast and don't drive into flooded areas, he said.

MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel said the flooding from Irene could be worse than the 1938 New England hurricane that killed 564 people.

"I think everybody is confident, unfortunately, that this is going to be a bad event from freshwater flooding," he said.

Forecasters predict Irene will dump 6 to 10 inches of rain in a swath from North Carolina to New England with some areas getting as much as 15 inches of rain. That's partly because the storm is unusually large and is moving fairly slowly – around 15 mph – allowing it to dump more rain over large areas.

"And all of this rain will come in a short period of time, and that could lead to life-threatening flash floods," National Hurricane Center meteorologist John Cangialosi said Friday.

Much of the area on Irene's projected track from Baltimore to New England is already soaked from higher than normal rainfall in the past month. Philadelphia has already had about 13 inches this month, which Cangialosi called "extraordinary."

When a hurricane comes ashore, it brings with it steadily rising seawater, called storm surge. With waves and wind, it pushes inland along rivers, bays and sounds in addition to the beachfront.

National Weather Service storm surge models – using a computer program called SLOSH – show Irene could bring about 4 feet of water into New York City's Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan, Emanuel said. The forecast has Irene heading east of New York; it could be far worse if Irene hits just west of the city, he said.

In some places, the storm surge projections are higher. Water levels may rise as much as 6 to 11 feet on North Carolina's Outer Banks, Cangialosi said.

As Irene makes its way up the coast from the mid-Atlantic to the New Jersey shore, the best projections suggest Irene's center will stay just to the east offshore, he said. So the surge may be slightly lower there, about 4 to 8 feet in the southern Chesapeake Bay area and 3 to 6 feet along the Jersey shore.

But there's another added problem with storm surge: The tides.

Twice a month, tides are higher than normal because the gravitational pull of the moon and sun occur at the same time. That's happening with the new moon on Monday. That means about half a foot difference in low and high tides Sunday, said Stephen Gill, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"It's going to be bad no matter what and it's going to be worse if it hits at high tide," Gill said

And that's not all. An experimental science program shows Irene's unusual size means it would produce much more of a storm surge punch than a hurricane with the same wind speeds, said NOAA atmospheric scientist Mark Powell.

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AP writer Harry Weber in Miami contributed to this report.

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AP reports:

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- The full measure of Hurricane Irene's fury came into focus Monday as the death toll jumped to 38, New England towns battled epic floods and millions faced the dispiriting prospect of several days without electricity.

Full story here.

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Southampton Patch posts aerial photos of erosion suffered by Hamptons beaches. The photos can be viewed here.

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@ GOOD : Irene wasn't overhyped: It's already the fourth deadliest storm in the last 30 years. http://t.co/VZvHYc5

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@ ErnestScheyder : Swimming officially banned at all NYC's beaches after #irene as storm swept a lot of #sewage into waterways. #dogdaysofsummer

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According to Associated Press, 35 deaths have been confirmed in 10 states. Update here.

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@ robmarcianoCNN : Still no power at my folks place in CT. Mom says last night was their first candle light dinner in decades.

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@ NYCMayorsOffice : Most NYC animal shelters resuming services. Adopt a #ShelterPet from @NYCACC or @Bideawee or by searching @ShelterPets. #IrenePets

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The animation below, taken from 48 hours of images from NASA's GOES-13 satellite between August 27 and August 29, shows Irene passing over New York and New England and entering Canada.

NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Dennis Chesters

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Democracy Now! reports:

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin joins us for an update from Vermont, where nearly every community is surrounded by hills and valleys, with small streams feeding into rivers. Shumlin notes that since he was sworn into office seven months ago, "this is the second major disaster as a result of storms. We had storms this spring that flooded our downtowns and put us through many of the same exercises that we’re going through right now. We didn’t used to get weather patterns like this in Vermont. The point is, we in the colder states are going to see the results of climate change first."

Read the report here.

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The Associated Press reports:

CHESTER, Vt. — Officials say more than a dozen towns in Vermont and at least three in New York are cut off, with roads and bridges washed out by flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

Chris Cole of Vermont's Agency of Transportation says Monday that towns in the central and southern part of the state have been isolated by the storm.

In New York, the towns of Keene in the Adirondacks, and Windham and Phoenicia in the Catskills are effectively isolated by damage to roads and bridges.

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Expert forecasters misjudged the severity of Irene as it barreled toward the East Coast of the United States late last week. It weakened considerably by the time it hit New York.

Although some have claimed the Mayor, and Governor Cuomo, who ordered the city's subways be shut down Saturday, overreacted to Irene, the resounding general consensus is that the Mayor's 'better safe than sorry' strategy was one that worked for New York.

Read more here.

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Watch Gov. Cuomo's live briefing here.

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Reisterstown Patch reports:

More than 450,000 households in Maryland remained without power 35 hours after peak rain and winds from Hurricane Irene hit the state, and the Baltimore area could experience outages until Friday, officials said Monday.

More here.

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Princeton Patch reports that Princeton EMT Michael Kenwood died early Sunday after braving Hurricane Irene floods during a water rescue. More here.

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Cranford, New Jersey Patch reports:

Cranford officials have asked the state of New Jersey and PSE&G to give Cranford "priority status" as residents begin the daunting task of asessing the damage to their homes and cleaning the mess left in Hurrican Irene's wake.

Mayor Dan Aschenbach spent the majority of his time late Sunday and Monday touring the township to assist with cleanup and rescue efforts.

Read the full story here.

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, HuffPost has compiled video footage from the disaster.

In the video below, a car floats down the river in Bennington, Vermont:

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Middleton, Connecticut Patch reports that Illiano's Pizzeria remained open on Sunday, and managed to serve hundreds of pizzas, despite the fact that they had lost power.

Read the story here.

Video courtesy of Darrell Lucas WATCH:

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Follow Hurricane Irene's path along the East Coast with this interactive map.

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Submit your photos to HuffPost's Irene slideshow.

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Ossining-Croton Patch's Christopher Michael McHugh reports on a rafting trip during the storm that ended in disaster.

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From AP:

Utility crews scrambled to restore power after Hurricane Irene raked across the Eastern Seaboard. But even with help from thousands of out-of-state repair crews, power companies say it may be days before some people see the lights back on.

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@ nickconfessore : Raw footage of @NYGovCuomo's first aerial survey of #irene damage via @stateofpolitics. More footage later. http://t.co/yxVHleC

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From HuffPost's John Celock:

The Army Corps of Engineers will be touring the Somerset County, NJ communities of Bound Brook and Manville today. Both communities were hit with flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Both towns have a history of flooding, including during after Hurricane Floyd hit New Jersey in 1999.

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We asked, and you responded. Here's a sample of what Huffington Post readers saw during and after Irene.

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@ NYCMayorsOffice : Hundreds of Con Ed crews are on the streets working to restore service to about 38,000 NYC customers currently without #power.

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The New York Times describes the scene in a school gym shelter over the weekend:

The sleepover was an international scene. Guests spoke English, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and Farsi.

Lying on a cot next to her mother and her aunt, Kimia Shahandeh, 25, studied for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl, and dipped in and out of “Funny in Farsi,” a memoir by an Iranian immigrant to the United States. Azadeh Lassman, Ms. Shahandeh’s aunt, chatted in Farsi with her sister and tore up pieces of paper to make a deck of cards.

Read the full story here.

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The Associated Press reports:

NEW YORK -- Wireless networks fell quiet Sunday in some coastal areas of North Carolina and southern Virginia, but calls were going through in most areas affected by Tropical Storm Irene, the Federal Communications Commission said.

In Lenoir, Greene and Carteret counties of North Carolina, 50 percent to 90 percent of cell towers went offline, said Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, head of the public safety bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.

More here.

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@ breakingirene : Vermont State Police confirm second death in Wilmington area following devastating flooding - Burlington Free Press http://t.co/xM7Y9AM

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The Brattleboro Reformer provides a video slideshow of images from around Windham County, Vermont.

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Boston.com/Boston Globe report:

@ BostonUpdate : Irene's 1st fatality in Mass; public works employee in Southbridge electrocuted by downed power line at home http://t.co/ZLYC7BZ #MAIrene

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