- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

NEWFANE, Vt. (AP) — As emergency airlift operations brought ready-to-eat meals and water to Vermont residents left isolated and desperate, states along the Eastern Seaboard continued to be battered by the aftereffects of Irene, the destructive hurricane turned tropical storm.

Dangerously damaged infrastructure, 2.5 million people without power, and thousands of water-logged homes and businesses continued to overshadow the lives of residents and officials from North Carolina through New England, where the storm has been blamed for at least 44 deaths in 13 states.

Raging floodwaters continued to ravage parts of northern New Jersey on Wednesday morning, even after the state’s rain-swollen rivers crested and slowly receded.

The Passaic River crested Tuesday night, causing extensive flooding and forcing a round of evacuations and rescues in Paterson, the state’s third-largest city.

“Been in Paterson all my life, I’m 62 years old, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said resident Gloria Moses as she gathered with others at the edge of what used to be a network of streets, now covered by a lake.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, after touring Wayne, through which the Passaic also flows, said Tuesday night he saw “just extraordinary despair.”

In Connecticut, the Connecticut River at Hartford crested Tuesday evening at 24.8 feet, the highest level since 1987, according to Nicole Belk, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass. But she said levees helped minimize flooding in riverside communities.

She said the river still could rise slightly farther south, in Middletown, where some streets and neighborhoods already were experiencing minor flooding.

Denise Ruzicka, director of inland water resources for Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said flood control dams and basins that New England states installed after 1955 floods helped prevent a catastrophe in the lower Connecticut River basin.

She said all the rivers in the state will be receding by the end of the day.

“The worst is over,” she said.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy toured hard-hit coastal areas — including a peninsula in Fairfield that was lined with heavily damaged homes on Long Island Sound.

Communities on the East Coast continued recovery efforts Tuesday, with people moving out of emergency shelters in western Massachusetts, farmers in New York’s battered Schoharie Valley assessing crop losses and an insurance agent in Pawtucket, R.I., fielding dozens of calls from customers making damage claims.

“The majority of the claims are trees down,” said Melanie Loiselle-Mongeon. “Trees on houses, on fences, on decks, on cars.”

In Vermont, officials focused on providing basic necessities to residents who in many cases still have no power, no telephone service, and no way to get in or out of their towns.

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