Irene Dumps Catastrophic Floods on Vermont, New Jersey
Vermont, New Jersey flooded as Irene spares NYC
Reuters, Aug. 29, 2011
(Reuters) - Vermont and New Jersey struggled with their worst flooding in decades on Monday, a day after Hurricane Irene slammed an already soaked region with torrential rain, threatening to cut off small towns and damaging hundreds of thousands of homes.
Spared from Irene's worst fury, New York City went back to work on Monday despite a partially crippled mass transit system and power outages that left 100,000 customers in the metropolitan area without electricity.
More than 12,000 East Coast flights were canceled and it could take three days to restore normal service, the industry group Air Transport Association said.
Overall some 5.5 million homes and businesses were still without power from North Carolina to Maine, and utilities said it could take days to restore electricity in more accessible areas, or up to weeks in the hardest-hit regions.
"It's going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude," President Barack Obama told reporters in Washington.
"The effects are still being felt across much of the country, including in New England and states like Vermont where there's been an enormous amount of flooding. ... I'm going to make sure that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other agencies are doing everything in their power to help people on the ground."
Air travel at New York City's three major area airports slowly resumed service, and financial markets operated normally, although volumes were low.
New York City subways returned to service, but many commuter lines to the city and national carrier Amtrak were disrupted due to tracks that were flooded or blocked with fallen trees and debris.
At least 21 people died in the United States in addition to three who died in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico when the storm was still in the Caribbean.
While Irene failed to produce the devastation many had expected when New York City pre-emptively ordered unprecedented evacuations and a shutdown of its mass transit system on Saturday, it still left hundreds of thousands of homeowners with flood damage, especially in New Jersey.
Some 5 to 15 inches of rain fell over a 24- to 36-hour period in northeastern states, said David Vallee, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, creating moderate to major flooding in parts of eastern New York state, the Connecticut River valley and much of northern New Hampshire and Vermont.
"Right now in Vermont, they are still very much in a search-and-rescue to try to figure out where people are cut off and make sure they have everybody located and accounted for," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters in Washington.
Vermont officials called it the state's worst flooding since 1927.
One person was killed after being swept into a river, and at least one of Vermont's historic covered bridges was washed away as Irene's rains sent rivers spilling over their banks.
"The bigger rivers haven't crested yet because the smaller brooks feed into them," Governor Peter Shumlin told Democracy Now, a daily TV and radio news program. "It means more flooding. We continue to be challenged here."
Many northeastern rivers, already swollen from an unusually wet summer, were still cresting.
The New Jersey town of Fairfield, home to more than 7,000 people, was in danger of becoming an island as flooding from the Passaic River was expected to surpass that of a memorable flood in 1984, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.
"The worst is yet to come for us," said Fontoura, a resident of Fairfield. "This is going to be very, very bad for the next couple of days."
The main road through the town was cut off, leaving one road to get out of town, and Fontoura feared it may close as the river crests on Tuesday morning.
In Millburn, New Jersey, which includes the tiny village of Short Hills and is home to a number of hedge fund managers, several businesses on Main Street suffered severe water damage when the Millburn River rose above its banks, flooding basements with up to 9 feet of water.
An American Water treatment plant in New Jersey that serves 45,000 customers sustained damage, cutting off all or nearly all water to many residents in Maplewood and Short Hills.
The company and town officials gave away free jugs of spring water at the Maplewood township pool, and as word spread so many cars were lined up that the company brought in a water tanker so people could refill jugs.
In Atlantic City, casinos started re-opening on Monday, creating backups as gamblers sought to check into hotels.
"We are still calculating the total revenue and profit loss from the shut down but having to close our casinos the weekend before Labor Day in Atlantic City is significant to our business in Atlantic City," said Jennifer Weissman, a spokeswoman for the Caesars Group, which owns several casinos there.
Irene is expected to have caused substantial property losses, though figures are still hard to come by because of uncertainty about wind damage, catastrophe modeling company Eqecat said on Monday.
Questions remained over how much would be covered by insurance as many homeowner policies do not cover flood damage.
The costly cleanup will also further strain budgets of state and local governments where economies have not recovered from the recession.
"It's a hit but not a fatal hit," said Joseph Seneca, a professor at Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
"The ability of states to respond (to the hurricane) is more constrained," Seneca said.