As water recedes, cleanup begins across Northeast

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WALLINGTON, N.J. (AP) — Weary residents across the Northeast pulled soggy furniture and ruined possessions onto their front lawns as they cleaned up and surveyed the damage wrought by Hurricane Irene.

The mess of destroyed furniture on Paul Postma’s front lawn looked like a yard sale gone wrong. Over the weekend, Mr. Postma watched as more than 2 feet of rain filled the bottom level of his home in Lincoln Park, N.J. On Wednesday, he was using bleach to wipe down the house’s mud-soaked walls.

“None of this has value,” he said. “At least not anymore.”

President Obama on Sunday will visit Paterson, N.J., where currents of the Passaic River swept through the city of 150,000, flooding part of downtown and forcing the emergency evacuations of hundreds of people who likely underestimated the storm’s ferocity.

National Guard helicopters ferried supplies Wednesday to mountain communities in Vermont that had no electricity, no telephone service, and limited transportation in or out. Elsewhere, the massive cleanup effort was already well under way at homes, farms and businesses across the flood-scarred landscape.

Repair estimates indicated that the storm almost certainly will rank among the nation’s costliest natural disasters, despite packing a lighter punch than initially feared. Even as rivers finally stopped rising in Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut, many communities and farm areas remained flooded, and officials said complete damage estimates were nowhere in sight.

An estimate released immediately after Irene by the Kinetic Analysis Corp., a Maryland-based consulting firm that uses computer models to estimate storm losses, put the damage at $7.2 billion in eight states and the District of Columbia.

That figure would eclipse damage from Hurricane Bob, which caused $1 billion in damage in New England in 1991, or the equivalent of about $1.7 billion today, and Hurricane Gloria, which swept through the region in 1985 and left $900 million in damage, the equivalent of $1.9 billion today, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Large sections of Wallington, N.J., remained underwater after a cruel one-two punch: The Passaic River flooded the heart-shaped hamlet Sunday and then receded, only to rise again late Tuesday, forcing a new round of evacuations.

“Sunday morning, the water was only up to here,” said Kevin O’Reilly, gesturing to where his front lawn used to meet the sidewalk. “My daughter and I took a walk around the block. We figured everything would be fine.”

Only hours later, waves were bouncing off the house, and the basement windows shattered.

“It sounded like Niagara Falls,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “It just filled up immediately, and this is what we’ve been dealing with since then.”

The town is accustomed to moderate flooding because it sits atop a network of underground streams that form a water table already saturated by record August rainfall.

At Killington Elementary School in Vermont, residents came for a free hot dog and corn on the cob. Jason and Angela Heaslip picked up a bag filled with peanut butter, cereal and toilet paper for their three children and three others who are visiting from Long Island.

“Right now, they’re getting little portions because we’re trying to make the food last,” said Jason Heaslip, who only has a dollar in his bank account because the storm has kept him from getting paid by the resort where he works.

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