- Associated Press - Sunday, August 28, 2011

NEW YORK — Stripped of hurricane rank, Tropical Storm Irene spent the last of its fury Sunday over New England, leaving treacherous flooding and millions of people without power - but an unfazed New York City and relief that it was nothing like the nightmare authorities feared.

The East Coast slowly surveyed the damage, up to $7 billion by one private estimate. For many the danger had not passed: Rivers and creeks turned into raging torrents tumbling with limbs and parts of buildings in northern New England and upstate New York.

Flooding was widespread in Vermont, where parts of Brattleboro, Bennington and several other communities, were submerged. One woman was swept away and feared drowned in the Deerfield River.

New York lifted its evacuation order for 370,000 people and said it hoped to have its subway, shut down for the first time by a natural disaster, rolling again Monday, though on a limited basis while safety checks continued. Officials warned of a difficult Monday morning commute. Philadelphia restarted its trains and buses, while Greyhound and other intercity bus services planned to resume Monday.

“All in all,” New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said, “we are in pretty good shape.”

At least 21 people died in the storm, most of them when trees crashed through roofs or onto cars. The toll was six in North Carolina, four in Virginia, four in Pennsylvania, two in New York, two in rough surf in Florida, and one each in Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey.

In the South, authorities were not sure how much damage had been done. North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said some parts of her state were unreachable. TV footage showed downed trees, toppled utility poles and power lines and mangled awnings.

The center of Irene, packing 65 mph winds, passed over Central Park at midmorning. By evening, with its giant figure-six shape brushing over New England and drifting east, the storm was down to 50 mph winds. It was expected to drop below tropical storm strength - 39 mph - before midnight, and was to drift into Canada later Sunday or early Monday.

“Just another storm,” said Scott Beller, who was at a Lowe’s hardware store in the Long Island hamlet of Centereach looking for a generator because his power was out.

Later in the day, the extent of the damage became clearer. Flood waters were rising across New Jersey, closing side streets and major highways including the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate 295. In Essex County, authorities used a 5-ton truck to ferry people away from their homes as the Passaic River neared its expected crest Sunday night.

Twenty homes on Long Island Sound in Connecticut were destroyed by churning surf. The torrential rain chased hundreds of people in upstate New York from their homes and washed out 137 miles of the state’s main highway.

In Massachusetts, the National Guard had to help people evacuate. The ski resort town of Wilmington, Vt., was flooded, but nobody could get to it because both state roads leading there were underwater.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen in Vermont,” said Mike O’Neil, the state emergency management director.

Rivers roared in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In the Hudson Valley town of New Paltz, N.Y., so many people were gathering to watch a rising river that authorities banned alcohol sales and ordered people inside. And in Rhode Island, which has a geography thick with bays, inlets and shoreline, authorities were worried about coastal flooding at evening high tide.

Under its first hurricane warning in a quarter-century, New York took extraordinary precautions. There were sandbags on Wall Street, tarps over subway grates and plywood on storefront windows. The subway stopped rolling. Broadway and baseball were canceled.

With the worst of the storm over, hurricane specialists assessed the preparations and concluded that, far from hyping the danger, authorities had done the right thing by being cautious.

Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center, called it a textbook case.

“They knew they had to get people out early,” he said. “I think absolutely lives were saved.”



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