Nearly 4.2 million homes and businesses along the U.S. East Coast were without power Sunday evening as Tropical Storm Irene, downgraded from a hurricane as it hit New York early Sunday, continued to wreak havoc on power grids in New England even as the storm weakened, according to reports from power companies.
New York City avoided the extensive damage and power loss that had been feared.
While Irene's visit took less than a day, work to restore power will likely take weeks and cost millions.
As skies cleared and high wind retreated, some utilities along the Eastern Seaboard were able to begin sending out workers to assess damage. Utilities normally spend the first hours after a storm looking at overall system damage so that proper equipment and workers can be dispatched when restoration work begins in earnest.
"With the passing of the storm, the damage assessment has begun," John Bruckner, president for National Grid's Long Island transmission and distribution services, told reporters.
Utility line crews and tree trimmers from around the country will converge on storm-damaged areas. Many customers will see power restored in the first 24 to 48 hours, but full restoration is likely to take weeks, utility officials warned, due to flooding.
Outages in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine jumped to nearly 1 million customers as the tropical storm headed north to Canada.
Irene also left thousands of other coastal residents served by electric cooperatives and other public power agencies without service.
The level of outages caused by Irene surpasses Hurricane Wilma's 2005 record when 3.2 million customers lost power as Wilma ripped across the Florida peninsula.
(Reporting by Eileen O'Grady, Bernie Woodall, Selam Gebrekidan, David Sheppard, Jeanine Prezioso, Joshua Schneyer; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Braden Reddall)