Irene Crosses Into Canada; Cleanup to Take Weeks

A downgraded yet devastating Irene storm left 21 dead, disrupted power in 6 million homes and businesses and caused damages worth billions of dollars across the East Coast before crossing into Canada late Sunday, which set off cleanup and repair efforts that could go on for weeks.

Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone as it was heading toward Canada on Sunday night, but it had already killed at least 21 people across the United States, according to CNN.

Six of the deaths were reported in North Carolina; four each in Virginia and Pennsylvania; two in New York; and one each in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and Florida. Authorities are trying to determine whether an additional death reported in New York is connected to the storm, in which case the toll will increase to 22.

According to preliminary estimates, the storm could cost insurers $1.5 billion to $3 billion to cover claims for damages, according to The Los Angeles Times. Jose Miranda, director of client advocacy at Eqecat Inc., a disaster risk management firm in Oakland, told the newspaper that the total damage, including uninsured losses, could be between $5 billion and $7 billion. Hurricane Katrina had over $70 billion in insured losses alone.

However, President Barack Obama addressed the nation on Sunday warning that flooding from the storm could worsen with rivers flooding their banks, and said that federal recovery efforts could last a few weeks.

“I want people to understand this is not over. Response and recovery efforts will be an ongoing operation,” he said.

Thousands of repair workers had begun clearing tree branches and repairing electrical lines to restore power after Irene left a trail of destruction from North Carolina to Maine, Bloomberg reported.

Philip Bediant, a professor of civil engineering at Rice University in Houston, also said that the recovery effort would take days, and in some cases weeks, as flooding from Irene’s torrential rains was still a threat to electrical infrastructure.

“It could have been a lot worse in terms of storm surge, could have been worse in terms of the actual wind speeds,” he said. “It did not strengthen like they originally thought,” Bloomberg quoted him as saying.

According to Disaster News Network, response organizations were assisting survivors and beginning the assessments to help rebuild the lives of the survivors. Across the Eastern Seaboard, federal assessment teams and faith-based relief groups began to spread out across affected areas to begin the recovery process, it said. The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and the Greater New Jersey (Conference) United Methodist Disaster Response were among the groups.

CRWRC’s representatives were being sent to North Carolina where Irene first made landfall in the U.S.

“Disaster response representatives will be arriving in Hyde County and Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, to meet with local officials, churches, and response partners, survey damage, and determine next steps,” Bill Adams, CRWRC’s director of Disaster Response Services, was quoted as saying. “A rapid response team is being readied for deployment to the areas that are most in need.”

The United Methodist agencies were identifying and mobilizing volunteers to help rebuild homes and lives. “We have many United Methodist volunteers and the number is growing as we prepare to respond,” New Jersey vice coordinator of Disaster Response C.J. Caufield said.

While the United States is preparing for response and recovery, Canada is reeling in fears of devastation.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre issued a warning of flooding and wind damage in eastern Canada, saying the heaviest rainfall was expected in Quebec as high winds and pounding surf were more of a concern in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, according to CBS News. At least 180,000 customers in Quebec had lost power by Sunday afternoon.

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