* Irene blamed for at least 15 deaths, NYC spared big hit
* Obama says danger not over, recovery will take time
* U.S. stock markets expected to open on Monday
* Irene downgraded to tropical storm as heads north
(Adds Obama, latest updates)
By Edith Honan and Clare Baldwin
NEW YORK, Aug 28 Hurricane Irene swept through
Manhattan on Sunday but reserved the worst of its fury for
towns and suburbs up and down the northeast region where
driving rain and flood tides inundated homes and cut power to
On its march up the East Coast over the weekend, the storm
left at least 15 dead, as many as 3.6 million customers without
electricity, widespread flooding and thousands of downed trees.
It forced the closure of New York's mass transit system, and
the cancellation of thousands of flights.
President Barack Obama warned that the region's problems
were far from over. "Many Americans are still at risk of power
outages and flooding which could get worse in the coming days
as rivers swell past their banks," Obama said, promising
federal government help for recovery efforts.
By late Sunday afternoon, Irene was bringing tropical storm
conditions to the six states of New England, still packing
winds of 60 miles per hour.
It isn't immediately clear how much Irene will cost but in
New Jersey alone, the damage is expected in "the billions of
dollars," Governor Chris Christie told NBC's "Meet the Press."
With many thousands of homeowners in the region suffering
flooding there will now be many questions over whether
insurance policies offer cover and whether the federal
government's flood program can handle the claims, especially at
a time of austerity in Washington and in cash-strapped states.
New York City's 8.5 million people are not used to
hurricanes and the city is plagued by aging infrastructure,
leading many to issue dire warnings in recent days about what
the hurricane could bring. Authorities had taken unprecedented
steps to prepare, including mandatory evacuations and a total
shutdown of mass transit systems, that will have had a major
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there were no reports of
deaths or injuries in the city, though there were some close
calls -- in Staten Island, firefighters with boats had rescued
more than 60 people, including 3 babies, from 21 homes flooded
with five feet of water, a fire department spokesman said.
While it weakened before it hit New York, the swirling
storm still packed a wallop, especially in districts such as
the Rockaways peninsula, a low-lying strip of land exposed to
the Atlantic Ocean on the southeastern flank of the city.
Authorities closed three bridges leading to the peninsula
before the storm.
"It was like being in the hull of a ship," said Patricia
Keane, 42, who stayed in her Rockaway home and lost power but
then used backup generators to supply electricity to herself
and four neighbors, who all had flooded basements.
On Sunday afternoon, about 370,000 city residents who had
been ordered to leave their homes were told they could return.
Some very limited public transport was starting to resume
with a few bus services running, but the head of the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it was too soon to
say when the New York subway system would return. Commuter
lines that bring many people into the city from surrounding
areas were also still out.
It all means that many who normally commute into Manhattan
and elsewhere in the region will find it very difficult to get
to work on Monday, though financial markets are expected to
open as normal, albeit with reduced volume.
TAKE A LOOK on Irene [ID:nSTORM]
Reuters Hurricane Tracker r.reuters.com/san78n
National Hurricane Center www.nhc.noaa.gov
Skeetobite Weather www.skeetobiteweather.com
Weather Underground www.wunderground.com/tropical
Air travel was expected to resume on Monday.
"All in all we are in pretty good shape," Bloomberg said,
adding that, while it would be a "tough commute" on Monday,
there had been no long-term damage to the subway system.
New Jersey, home to hundreds of thousands of people who
travel into New York each day, was hard hit by flooding, downed
trees and power outages. More than 100 dams in the state were
being monitored for spills from high water, and one downstream
town, High Bridge, was evacuated, Christie said.
Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia which was hit
earlier by the Hurricane, told CNN "We prepared for the worst
but came out a little better than expected. Unfortunately now,
four fatalities have been confirmed,"
"We've got some significant damage in some areas, from
flooding, from wind, a lot of trees down, 2.5 million people or
more without power in Virginia, that's the second largest
outage in history," he said.
In North Carolina, where authorities confirmed at least six
storm-related deaths since the hurricane made landfall on
Saturday, Governor Bev Perdue was expected to request a federal
The storm dumped up to eight inches of rain on the
Washington region, but the capital avoided major damage.
As the storm moved north on Sunday, New England officials
reported flooded roadways, trees downed over rail tracks and
evacuations in some towns.
The storm zone stretched from Massachusetts' eastern
islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket to the western
Berkshires mountain range, where authorities braced for dam
failures because of the heavy rains.
SIGH OF RELIEF
In Manhattan, where some had predicted massive flooding in
the financial district, there was about a foot of water in the
streets at the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan before
the tide began receding mid-morning.
Jeremy Corley, a 32-year-old web manager, was out in shorts
and a rain jacket at the Seaport on Sunday morning. "I was
watching the news on TV and they were way over-exaggerating how
bad it is so I wanted to go outside and check it out," he
Nearby, a man was walking his two dogs through water that
came up to the bellies of his pets. A mile or so further north,
a man was seen kayaking in the street, though the water was not
very deep and a cyclist was able to make his way along the same
Wall Street's financial district seemed largely unaffected
as did Ground Zero, where the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11
attacks is soon to be observed.
The impact was felt harder on Long Island. The waves at
Long Beach, which faces the Atlantic Ocean, crested up over the
boardwalk and onto the streets, taking with them a two-story
Jim Nolan, a 55-year-old architect, had a busy night at his
Copiague home on the shore of a lagoon on the south shore of
Long Island. He was keeping watch on his 34-foot cabin cruiser
tied to a dock by a number of lines that broke during the
night. "About 3 O'clock two snapped, two snapped about 4 or 5
o'clock and one snapped half an hour ago," Nolan said. "It was
nice and warm so I put my bathing suit on and went out there to
work on it with my son," Nolan said.
After Irene, weather watchers were keeping an eye on
Tropical Storm Jose, which formed near Bermuda.
This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in
U.S. history, with $35 billion in losses so far from floods,
tornadoes and heat waves.
(Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Miami; Joe Rauch
and Jim Brumm in Wilmington, N.C.; Tom Hals in Delaware;
Claudia Parsons, Basil Katz, Edith Honan, Phil Wahba, Clare
Baldwin, Jonathan Allen and Ernest Scheyder in New York;
Alistair Bell, Malahti Nayak, Andy Sullivan, David Morgan and
Lisa Lambert in Washington; Andrea Shalal-Esa in Ocean City;
Michael Fitzpatrick in Long Branch, New Jersey; Grant McCool in
Toms River, New Jersey; Writing by Claudia Parsons; Editing by
Jackie Frank, Martin Howell)