(Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar)
Hurricane Irene roared through the Northeast today like a rude, unwelcome guest, leaving at least 18 dead, millions without power, paralyzed cities, and an estimated $8 billion to $15 billion in damages.
Emergency officials said the storm knocked out power to more than 4 million people in six states and the recovery bill is still climbing.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Sunday flooding in his state is widespread and advised residents to remain indoors.
Forecasters say Irene's winds have fallen to 65 mph.
Though downgraded to a tropical storm at around 9 a.m., Irene still has the strength to cause more damage along the Eastern Seaboard.
Forecasters are calling for winds over 50 mph to continue over eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, southern New York and Connecticut through this afternoon. The ground soil in these areas are soft from Irene's tremendous rainfall, the risk for downed trees and power outages will remain high until the wind subsides this evening.
Irene's storm surge reached 4 to 5 feet along the New Jersey and New York coastline. At Battery Park, it was the sixth-highest water level ever recorded at 9.5 feet above mean low water level, according to emergency officials.
More than 270,000 in New York lost power, while in New Jersey at least 460,000 statewide are without power. The National Grid reported that 19,000-plus homes in Rhode Island lost power, and 6,000-plus homes are already without power in Massachusetts, according to utility records listed in The New York Times today.
After crossing New York City earlier this morning, Irene is now inundating upstate New York State and northern New England as winds whip all of the Northeast.
Irene remains a large and dangerous storm with a huge area of rain, rising flood waters, and strong winds.
Extremely heavy rain will continue to hit northern New England and upstate New York as Irene plows north through this afternoon, which will cause the area impacted by flooding to expand. Flood watches and warnings are in effect for this entire area.
Heavy rain from Irene has already triggered serious flooding from North Carolina to New York. Many of the area rivers and streams are out of their banks and will remain high in the wake of the storm as runoff continues.
Metro areas remained paralyzed while states south of New England started to recover Sunday.
In North Carolina, the state that took the first hard hit from Irene, residents woke up to a soggy state after rain saturated the state for more than 30 hours. The hurricane hit the coast Saturday morning with sustained winds of 85 miles per hour.
North Carolinians were spending time waiting in long lines as gas stations re-opened, many standing with red plastic gas cans in hand. They will need the gas to run generators until the power comes back on, The New York Times reports.
President Obama, in a televised address from the Rose Garden Sunday afternoon warned, “This is not over.”
“Irene, remains a ‘dangerous’ storm, even in its weakened state, and many communities will see flooding in the days ahead.”
Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, said at the news conference “I urge all Americans to take prudent steps to stay safe.”
As thoughts turn to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the government's slow response, Napolitano pledged that the federal government will assist states responding to or recovering from Hurricane Irene.
On Sunday, it seemed like the hardest hit major city was Philadelphia. Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, told The New York Times that water levels in the city, which lies between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, were 15 feet above normal in some areas, and were not expected to stop rising until Sunday afternoon.
The waters were approaching the highest level ever recorded with some 17 feet in 1869, he said. “There are many streams and creeks, and they are all above flood stage now,” McDonald said.
In Virginia, the brunt of the storm was felt about 50 miles inland along the Route 58 corridor, said Gov. Bob McDonnell, where more than 16 inches of rain fell, creating the fourth-highest storm surge on record.
Winds reached 86 miles per hour, causing damage in towns and cities and leaving at least four fatalities across the state. Each one was the result of a falling tree, said Gov. McDonnell, including the death of an 11-year-old boy in Newport News, whose house was hit by a tree.
More than 2.5 million people in the state were without power on Sunday, he said, representing the second-largest power outage in the history of the state.
Three-quarters of Richmond, the state capital, was without power on Sunday, Gov. Bob McDonnell said in an on-air statement.
Rising waters are a big problem along the shores of the East Coast including Vermont.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said the state has “a full-blown flooding catastrophe on our hands.”
“For all intents and purposes, for whatever reason, Vermont is getting the full force of Irene and we’re going to be devastated with flooding,” Shumlin said.
“We have not seen widespread power outages like this in a very long time,” a FEMA spokesperson told The Christian Post.
“We are battling massive rain events, huge power outages, rising waters, and paralyzed cities at the same time. This will take weeks to overcome and get a sense of normality back in the lives of Americans.”
Meanwhile, New York City’s public transportation system remained paralyzed on Sunday afternoon even after Irene moved away from the city, and authorities expect a lengthy recovery that would most likely leave many commuters stranded on Monday morning.
Transit workers were still waiting for winds to die down before they could inspect the entire system. But an initial survey photos reveal flooded subway tracks, powerless commuter trains, and mudslides have inundated many systems.
The region’s major airports remained closed on Sunday, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said the earliest they would be reopened was Monday night or possibly Tuesday morning.
The FAA said they do not know when a full airline schedule will be up and running. "The date/time when the airport is expected to reopen is not known," said a statement on the FAA website.
A spokesman for JetBlue told reporters the airline hoped to resume flights after 3 p.m. on Monday, depending on flooding conditions at Kennedy and La Guardia Airports.
It is unlikely that the subway and commuter rail system will be back to full speed for the Monday morning commute, city officials said.
For JFK flight information visit http://www.fly.faa.gov/flyfaa/usmap.jsp.
For updated New York City transit schedules visit http://www.mta.info/nyct/.