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Tropical Storm Irene: New York City Appears To Escape The Worst As Irene Moves On

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By SAMANTHA GROSS and MITCH WEISS, Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Tropical Storm Irene unleashed furious wind and rain on New York on Sunday and sent seawater surging into the Manhattan streets. But the city appeared to escape the worst fears of urban disaster - vast power outages, hurricane-shattered skyscraper windows and severe flooding.

A foot of water rushed over the wall of a marina in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gold and oil are traded, and floodwater lapped at the wheel wells of yellow cabs. As the storm marched into New England, though, authorities in its wake cautiously expressed relief.

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New York City's biggest power company, Consolidated Edison, said it was optimistic it would not have to cut electricity to save its equipment. The Sept. 11 museum, a centerpiece of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, said on Twitter that none of its memorial trees were lost.

And Irene made landfall as a tropical storm with 65 mph winds, not the 100-mph hurricane that had churned up the East Coast and dumped a foot of water or more on less populated areas in the South.

"Just another storm," said Scott Beller, who was at a Lowe's store in the Long Island hamlet of Centereach, looking for a generator because his power was out.

Irene weakened to winds of 60 mph, well below the 74 mph dividing line between a hurricane and tropical storm. The system was still massive and powerful, forming a figure six that covered the Northeast. It was moving twice as fast as the day before.

The storm killed at least 14 people and left 4 million homes and businesses without power. It unloaded more than a foot of water on North Carolina and spun off tornadoes in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

And even after the storm passes in the Northeast, the danger will persist. Rivers could crest after the skies the clear, and the ground in most of the region is saturated from a summer of persistent rain.

But from North Carolina to New Jersey, the storm appeared to have fallen well short of the doomsday predictions. Across the Eastern Seaboard, at least 2.3 million people were given orders to evacuate, though it was not clear how many obeyed them.

Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center, said the storm wasn't just a lot of hype with little fury. He praised authorities, from meteorologists to emergency managers at all levels, for taking the threat seriously.

"They knew they had to get people out early," Mayfield said. "I think absolutely lives were saved."

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 posted wind readings and reported: "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."

Under its first hurricane warning in a quarter-century, the nation's largest city had taken extensive precautions. There were sandbags on Wall Street, tarps over subway grates and plywood on storefront windows. The subway stopped rolling. Broadway and baseball were canceled.

John F. Kennedy International Airport recorded a tropical storm-force wind gust of 58 mph. Kennedy, where on a normal day tens of thousands of passengers would be arriving from points around the world, was quiet. So were LaGuardia and Newark airports. So was Grand Central Terminal, where the great hall was cleared out entirely. Part of the Holland Tunnel was closed.

And 370,000 people in the city had been ordered to move to safer ground, although they appeared in great numbers to have stayed put. A storm surge of at least 3 1/2 feet was recorded in New York Harbor, and water pressed into Manhattan from three sides – the harbor, the Hudson River and the East River.

"You could see newspaper stands floating down the street," said Scott Baxter, a hotel doorman in the SoHo neighborhood.

New York firefighters made dozens of water rescues, including three babies, and said they were searching bungalows that had floated down the street in parts of Queens. The wind and rain were expected to diminish by afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center said the center of the huge storm reached land near Little Egg Inlet, N.J., at 5:35 a.m. The eye previously reached land Saturday in North Carolina before returning to the Atlantic, tracing the East Coast shoreline.

Irene caused flooding from North Carolina to Delaware, both from the 7-foot waves it pushed into the coast and from heavy rain. Eastern North Carolina got 10 to 14 inches of rain. Virginia's Hampton Roads area was drenched with at least 9 inches, 16 in some spots.

More than 1 million homes and businesses lost power in Virginia alone. 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.

In North Carolina, where at least five people were killed and TV footage showed downed trees and power lines, Gov. Beverly Perdue said 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.

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.

A nuclear reactor at Maryland's Calvert Cliffs went offline automatically when a large piece of aluminum siding blew off and hit 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 raked the Caribbean last week and made its first landfall Saturday near Cape Lookout, N.C., at the southern end of the Outer Banks.

Of the 14 deaths, at least nine were caused by falling trees or car crashes into trees. The victims included five in North Carolina, four in Virginia, one each in Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut, and two in rough surf in Florida.

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.

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.

Near the epicenter of the quake, in Mineral, Va., trees were down, but the power stayed on.

"I was telling people, `All I can say is we all better go to church on Sunday,'" Mayor Pam Harlowe said. "But unfortunately a bunch of them are closed."

At the East Coast cleans up, it can't afford to get too comfortable. Off the coast of Africa is a batch of clouds that computer models say will probably threaten the East Coast 10 days from now, Mayfield said. The hurricane center gave it a 40 percent chance of becoming a named storm over the next two days.

"Folks on the East Coast are going to get very nervous again," Mayfield said.

___

Weiss reported from Nags Head, N.C. Associated Press writers Christine Armario in Miami; Jessica Gresko in Ocean City, Md.; Brock Vergakis in Virginia Beach, Va.; Marc Levy in Chester, Pa.; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Samantha Bomkamp, Verena Dobnik, Jonathan Fahey, Beth Fouhy, Tom Hays, Colleen Long and Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.

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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