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In Woodstock, Vt., Michael Ricci spent the day clearing debris from his backyard along the Ottauquechee River. What had been a meticulously mowed, sloping grass lawn and gorgeous flower beds was now a muddy expanse littered with debris, including wooden boards, propane tanks and a deer-hunting target.

“The things we saw go down the river were just incredible,” Mr. Ricci said. “Sheds, picnic tables, propane tanks, furnaces, refrigerators. We weren’t prepared for that. We had prepared for wind, and what we ended up with was more water than I could possibly, possibly have imagined.” He said the water in his yard was almost up to the house, or about 15 to 20 feet above normal.

Volunteers in Windham, N.Y., helped 26-year-old Antonia Schreiber salvage the floors of the 200-year-old Victorian cottage she had transformed into a luxury day spa.

The ski town, high in the Catskill Mountains, was left under several feet of brick-red water Sunday night after a stony creek, the Batavia Kill, grew to a raging river fueled by a foot of rain.

“Friends, loved ones, people I don’t even know showed up with trucks, bulldozers and hugs,” she said as men and women scraped and mopped around her. “The magnitude of generosity and good will is just overwhelming.”

While East Coast residents measured the cost of the storm in waterlogged cars and ruined furniture, official predictions were more dire.

In North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore along the Outer Banks on Saturday before heading for New York and New England, Gov. Beverly Perdue said the hurricane destroyed more than 1,100 homes and caused at least $70 million in damage.

Early Wednesday, President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York, freeing up federal recovery funds for people in eight counties. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs. Irene destroyed 500 to 600 homes and thousands of acres of farmland in upstate New York.

Total losses from the storm along the U.S. Atlantic Coast — including damage and expenses incurred by governments — are likely to be about $7 billion, according to Jan Vermeiren, CEO of Silver Spring, Md.-based risk consultant Kinetic Analysis Corp., which uses computer models to estimate storm losses.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mr. Fugate will tour New York and New Jersey on Wednesday to view the damage firsthand. Trips to other states affected by the storm are being planned.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Woodstock, Vt.; Lisa Rathke, Wilson Ring and Dave Gram in Montpelier, Vt.; David Porter and Samantha Henry in Lodi, N.J.; Stephen Dockery in Fairfield, Conn.; David Klepper and Laura Crimaldi in Providence, R.I.; and Michael Gormley in Albany, N.Y.