The full measure of Hurricane Irene’s fury came into focus on Monday as the death toll passed 46, while towns in the northern US region of New England battled floods and millions were still without electricity.
From North Carolina to Maine, communities cleaned up and took stock of the uneven and hard-to-predict costs of a storm that spared the nation’s biggest city a nightmare scenario, only to deliver a historic wallop to towns well inland.
In New York City, where people had braced for a disaster-movie scene of water swirling around skyscrapers, the subways and buses were up and running again in time for the Monday morning commute. And to the surprise of many New Yorkers, things went pretty smoothly.
However, to the north, landlocked Vermont contended with what its governor called the worst flooding in a century. Streams also raged out of control in rural, upstate New York.
In many cases, the moment of maximum danger arrived well after the storm had passed, as rainwater made its way into rivers and streams and turned them into torrents. Irene dumped up to 28cm of rain on Vermont and more than 33cm in parts of New York.
“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.”
Irene killed at least five people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The first known casualty was a woman who died trying to cross a swollen river in the US territory of Puerto Rico.
The death toll for 11 eastern US states had stood at 21 as of Sunday night, then rose sharply to at least 40 as bodies were pulled from floodwaters and people were struck by falling trees or electrocuted by downed power lines.
A driver was missing after a road collapsed and swallowed two cars about 100km northeast of Montreal.
The tally of Irene’s destruction mounted, too. An apparently vacant home exploded in an evacuated, flooded area in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, early on Monday, and firefighters had to battle the flames from a boat. In the Albany, New York, suburb of Guilderland, police rescued two people on Monday after their car was swept away. Rescuers found them three hours later, clinging to trees along the swollen creek.
“It’s going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude,” US President Barack Obama said as he promised the government would do everything in its power to help people get back on their feet.
Obama signed an emergency declaration for Vermont, making federal assistance available for the entire state.
For many people, the aftermath could prove more painful than the storm itself.
In North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore along the Outer Banks on Saturday before heading for New York and New England, 1,000 people were still in emergency shelters, awaiting word on their homes.
At the same time, nearly 5 million homes and businesses in a dozen states were still without electricity and utilities said it might be a week or more before some people got their power back.
As the storm continued its march into eastern Canada, Irene brought strong winds, gusting near 90kph, to parts of southern New Brunswick, northern and mainland Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Environment Canada said the strongest winds were felt just east of Quebec City on Ile d’Orleans, where gusts of 113kph were reported.