Irene inflicts huge floods in US; death toll hits 38

20:34, Aug 30 2011
Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Hurricane Irene.
Hurricane Irene
A shopper in Rockaway Beach, New York, walks down empty aisles in search of supplies.
Coney Island Hospital
Coney Island Hospital is evacuated before Hurricane Irene hits New York City.
Hurricane Irene
A beachgoer gets caught up in the storm as Hurricane Irene begins to batter Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.
Michael Bloomberg
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of 300,000 people living in the city's low lying areas.
Coney Island
Coney Island, famed for its amusement park, starts to empty out ahead of Hurricane Irene.
Hurricane Irene in North Carolina
STORM HITS US: Thomas and Kristen Bradshaw secure their boat dock as heavy winds and rain from Hurricane Irene move into Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
Two unidentified boys get back on their bikes as they leave the beach while being blasted with sand and rain from strong winds on the Outer Banks in Kill Devil Hills as Hurricane Irene reaches the North Carolina coast.
Two unidentified boys get back on their bikes as they leave the beach while being blasted with sand and rain from strong winds on the Outer Banks in Kill Devil Hills as Hurricane Irene reaches the North Carolina coast.
Boats are bashed against the shore and a dock in Morehead City as Hurricane Irene hits the North Carolina coast of the US.
Boats are bashed against the shore and a dock in Morehead City as Hurricane Irene hits the North Carolina coast of the US.
Waters lap at the foundation of a house along Calico Creek in Morehead City as Hurricane Irene bears down on the North Carolina coast of the US.
Waters lap at the foundation of a house along Calico Creek in Morehead City as Hurricane Irene bears down on the North Carolina coast of the US.
Two starfish are seen on the upper deck of a house in Pawleys Island, South Carolina after being washed onto the steps about five metres above the beach by Hurricane Irene.
Two starfish are seen on the upper deck of a house in Pawleys Island, South Carolina after being washed onto the steps about five metres above the beach by Hurricane Irene.
Shingles are torn from rooftops as the effects of Hurricane Irene are felt in Nags Head, North Carolina, in the US.
Shingles are torn from rooftops as the effects of Hurricane Irene are felt in Nags Head, North Carolina, in the US.
Waves crash under Jeannette's Pier as the effects of Hurricane Irene are felt in Nags Head, North Carolina, in the US.
Waves crash under Jeannette's Pier as the effects of Hurricane Irene are felt in Nags Head, North Carolina, in the US.
One of two people rescued from a sailboat (right) uses a line to make their way onto the beach on Willoughby Spit in Norfolk, Virginia after they, and another person, were rescued from the boat that foundered in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
One of two people rescued from a sailboat (right) uses a line to make their way onto the beach on Willoughby Spit in Norfolk, Virginia after they, and another person, were rescued from the boat that foundered in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
A photo provided by the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority shows an MTA employee filling an ''AquaDam'' across the Long Island Rail Road tracks at New York City’s Penn Station.
A photo provided by the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority shows an MTA employee filling an ''AquaDam'' across the Long Island Rail Road tracks at New York City’s Penn Station. The temporary barrier was installed to help keep flood waters stirred up by Hurricane Irene out of Penn Station’s tunnels.
Vehicles sit in flood waters at a auto repair shop as Hurricane Irene hits the North Carolina coast of the US.
Vehicles sit in flood waters at a auto repair shop as Hurricane Irene hits the North Carolina coast of the US.
Ron Briethaup, 48, of Buxton, North Carolina, works to free his fiancee's truck after it got stuck on a flooded section of highway as Hurricane Irene lashed the eastern coast of the US.
Ron Briethaup, 48, of Buxton, North Carolina, works to free his fiancee's truck after it got stuck on a flooded section of highway as Hurricane Irene lashed the eastern coast of the US.
Jarod Wilton looks at the flood waters rising to his doorstep in Alliance, North Carolina, as Hurricane Irene hits the US.
Jarod Wilton looks at the flood waters rising to his doorstep in Alliance, North Carolina, as Hurricane Irene hits the US.
Floodwaters surround this pickup truck on Hwy 55 in New Bern, North Carolina as Hurricane Irene hit the US.
Floodwaters surround this pickup truck on Hwy 55 in New Bern, North Carolina as Hurricane Irene hit the US.
A vehicle avoids a downed pole as Hurricane Irene hits Greenville, North Carolina, US.
A vehicle avoids a downed pole as Hurricane Irene hits Greenville, North Carolina, US.
People wade through a street flooded by Hurricane Irene in Manteo, North Carolina, US.
People wade through a street flooded by Hurricane Irene in Manteo, North Carolina, US.
Storm clouds from Hurricane Irene gather over New York.
Storm clouds from Hurricane Irene gather over New York.
New Zealander Joyce Santiago watches the New York skyline for Hurricane Irene's approach from the roof deck of her apartment.
New Zealander Joyce Santiago watches the New York skyline for Irene's approach from the roof deck of her apartment.
Waves break along the pier which was damaged during Hurricane Irene, in Ocean City, Maryland.
Waves break along the pier which was damaged during Hurricane Irene, in Ocean City, Maryland.
Waves pound the boardwalk and the beach at first light as Hurricane Irene slams into Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Waves pound the boardwalk and the beach at first light as Hurricane Irene slams into Asbury Park, New Jersey.
A lighthouse-shaped building is battered by storm surge and winds from Hurricane Irene in Montauk, New York.
A lighthouse-shaped building is battered by storm surge and winds from Hurricane Irene in Montauk, New York.
The Arr-Mac water rescue team from Wayne County manoeuvres around a beached boat in the middle of Highway 304 in Mesic, North Carolina.
The Arr-Mac water rescue team from Wayne County manoeuvres around a beached boat in the middle of Highway 304 in Mesic, North Carolina.
A large, fallen tree blocks a road while it rest on some cars in the Brooklyn borough of New York as Hurricane Irene hits the city.
A large, fallen tree blocks a road while it rest on some cars in the Brooklyn borough of New York as Hurricane Irene hits the city.
Waves crash over the shore during high tide during a storm surge from Hurricane Irene in Bayshore, New York, on Long Island.
Waves crash over the shore during high tide during a storm surge from Hurricane Irene in Bayshore, New York, on Long Island.
Harbourmaster Arjen Weehuizen walks along the inundated docks of Battery Park City's North Cove Marina as Tropical Storm Irene passes through New York.
Harbourmaster Arjen Weehuizen walks along the inundated docks of Battery Park City's North Cove Marina as Tropical Storm Irene passes through New York.
Children stand on the far side of a flooded portion of Massachusetts Route 5 which is closed to traffic in Northhampton due to flooding from tropical storm Irene.
Children stand on the far side of a flooded portion of Massachusetts Route 5 which is closed to traffic in Northhampton due to flooding from tropical storm Irene.
Aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, in East Haven, Connetticut.
Aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, in East Haven, Connetticut.
A caravan lies upside down on a riverbank in Berlin, Vermont, after it was washed away by flash flooding following heavy rains from Tropical Storm Irene.
A caravan lies upside down on a riverbank in Berlin, Vermont, after it was washed away by flash flooding following heavy rains from Tropical Storm Irene.
Flooding over a road from the Farmington River is seen in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, in Simsbury, Connetticut.
Flooding over a road from the Farmington River is seen in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, in Simsbury, Connetticut.
People take photos of a washed-out section of Route 7 south of Rutland, Vermont, following heavy rains from Tropical Storm Irene that swelled rivers the day before.
People take photos of a washed-out section of Route 7 south of Rutland, Vermont, following heavy rains from Tropical Storm Irene that swelled rivers the day before.
Floodwaters from the Passaic River engulf a service station after Hurricane Irene in Paterson, New Jersey.
Floodwaters from the Passaic River engulf a service station after Hurricane Irene in Paterson, New Jersey.
Floodwaters from the Passaic River engulf a bridge days after Hurricane Irene in Paterson, New Jersey.
Floodwaters from the Passaic River engulf a bridge days after Hurricane Irene in Paterson, New Jersey.
Residents use a boat to examine flooding in the town of Totowa, New Jersey.
Residents use a boat to examine flooding in the town of Totowa, New Jersey.
Pat Richard tries to make her way along what remains of East Beach Road in Westport, Massachusetts that was shattered by high surf and winds when Tropical Storm Irene swept the area.
Pat Richard tries to make her way along what remains of East Beach Road in Westport, Massachusetts that was shattered by high surf and winds when Tropical Storm Irene swept the area.
The swollen Passaic River floods River Road in Paterson, New Jersey.
The swollen Passaic River floods River Road in Paterson, New Jersey. Three days after Hurricane Irene blasted through the state and up the East Coast, there was little respite for many northern New Jersey communities facing a lengthy cleanup and a sobering tally of damage.
Water from the swollen Passaic River pours over the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey.
Water from the swollen Passaic River pours over the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey.

New Jersey and Vermont are struggling with their worst flooding in decades, a day after Hurricane Irene slammed an already soaked US Northeast with torrential rain, dragging away homes and submerging neighbourhoods underwater.

The massive storm churned up the US East Coast over the weekend killing at least 38 people in 11 states, in addition to three who died in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico when the storm was still in the Caribbean, authorities said.

Spared from Irene's worst fury, New York City went back to work on Monday (today, NZ time) despite a partially crippled mass transit system and power outages that left 100,000 customers in the metropolitan area and nearly one million in the state without electricity.

Overall, some 5.1 million homes and businesses were still without power from North Carolina to Maine, and utilities said it could take days to restore electricity in more accessible areas and weeks in the hardest-hit regions.

Total economic damage could reach US$20 billion (NZ$24b), Standard & Poor's Senior Economist Beth Ann Bovino said. Hundreds of thousands of homes suffered damage, raising questions about how much would be covered by insurance as many homeowner policies do not cover flood damage.

In Fairfield, New Jersey, about 20 homes near the Passaic River were submerged, some in at least 1.5 metres of water. Some people waded chest high or rode canoes down the street, while others just sat and witnessed the flood from their stoops.

"This is the worst flood we have ever had," said Mike Chiafulio, 52, who could only watch as the water continued to rise around his mother's house. He said the flooding exceeding what he remembered from notable floods in 1968 and 1984.

The leafy suburb of Maplewood some 32km west of New York City was jarred by the sound of whirring generators, sirens and pumps emptying water from flooded houses.

"We were expecting heavy rains," said Bobbi-Jean Jeun of Clarksville, a hamlet near Albany, New York. "We were expecting flooding. We weren't expecting devastation. It looks like somebody set a bomb off."

Hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey could be without electricity, water supplies or gas for days to come, their comfortable towns strewn with felled trees and branches blocking main roadways.

"We've had major rains before but we've never had flooding like this," said Ben Cohen, a retired judge who lives in Maplewood. "I can only vouch for the last 38 years but nothing even can come close to this."

In the town of Whippany, firefighters trained in swift water rescue pulled two youths out of the raging Whippany River, Deputy Fire Chief Randy Polo said.

Dumped from a raft at a man-made waterfall in the river, one teen was clinging to a log and the other to a broken tree limb in the thundering current, Polo said. The rescue took about an hour, he said.

"They were grateful, to say the least," Polo said.

OBAMA PLEDGES AID

"It's going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude," US President Barack Obama told reporters in Washington.

"The effects are still being felt across much of the country, including in New England and states like Vermont where there's been an enormous amount of flooding.

"I'm going to make sure that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other agencies are doing everything in their power to help people on the ground."

Vermont officials called it the state's worst flooding since 1927.

Air travel at New York City's three major area airports slowly resumed service, and financial markets operated normally, although volumes were low.

More than 12,000 East Coast flights were canceled and it could take three days to restore normal service, the industry group Air Transport Association said.

New York City subways returned to service, but many commuter lines to the city and national train carrier Amtrak were disrupted due to tracks that were flooded or blocked with fallen trees and debris.

While Irene failed to produce the devastation many had expected when New York City preemptively ordered unprecedented evacuations and a shutdown of its mass transit system on Saturday, it still left hundreds of thousands of homeowners with flood damage, especially in New Jersey and Vermont.

"I keep being somewhat disappointed by some of the national press that think because Manhattan wasn't hit, everything is  fine. We're not Manhattan, but we have human lives here in Vermont, too," Governor Peter Shumlin said after surveying washed out roads and bridges and homes bobbing in the water.

Shumlin visited the Whetstone Studio for the Arts in Brattleboro, an artsy community of 12,000 along the Connecticut River. Gushing water ate away at the building and left its second floor dangling precariously over the flood.

MASSIVE RAINFALL

Some 12 to 38cm of rain fell over a 24- to 36-hour period in northeastern states, said David Vallee, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, creating moderate to major flooding in parts of eastern New York state, the Connecticut River valley and much of northern New Hampshire and Vermont.

Fairfield, New Jersey, home to more than 7000 people, was in danger of becoming an island as flooding from the Passaic River was expected to surpass that of a memorable flood in 1984, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.

"We are surrounded already," said Gail Dupas, 36, who fled to a hotel after floodwaters on her street reached neck deep.

"It's devastating. You have to grab what you can. Anything that's irreplaceable."

Alex Adams, 35, looked relieved as a Maplewood fire truck arrived at his house to pump out more than 60cm of water that accumulated in his basement.

"It obliterated everything but we were most concerned about getting electrocuted," Adams said.

"My wife and I were in there pulling out everything when we realised water was over the outlets."

Even the mega wealthy were inconvenienced by Irene. Hedge fund magnate David Tepper was forced from his plush office in Millburn, New Jersey, as the fund's main offices lost power.

Tepper is founder of hedge fund Appaloosa Management LP.

The costly cleanup will also further strain budgets of state and local governments, where economies have not recovered from the recession.

"It's a hit but not a fatal hit," said Joseph Seneca, a professor at Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. "The ability of states to respond (to the hurricane) is more constrained," Seneca said.

Advertisement

Flood damage in Vermont, US, in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
Flood damage in Vermont, US, in the wake of Hurricane Irene.