After Irene: Severe flooding is feared within days

A flooded road is seen in Hatteras Island, N.C., Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011, after Hurricane Irene swept through the area Saturday cutting the roadway in five locations. Irene caused more than 4.5 million homes and businesses along the East Coast to reportedly lose power over the weekend, and at least 11 deaths were blamed on the storm.
A flooded road is seen in Hatteras Island, N.C., Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011, after Hurricane Irene swept through the area Saturday cutting the roadway in five locations. Irene caused more than 4.5 million homes and businesses along the East Coast to reportedly lose power over the weekend, and at least 11 deaths were blamed on the storm. AP Photo/Steve Helber

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (AP) — From North Carolina to New Jersey, Hurricane Irene's winds and storm surge fell short of the doomsday predictions. But the danger is far from over: With rivers still rising, severe flooding is feared across much of the East Coast over the next few days.

 

More than 4.5 million homes and businesses along the coast lost power, and at least 15 deaths were blamed on the storm.

 

With roads impassable because of high water and fallen trees, it could be days before the full extent of the damage is known. But as day broke Sunday, many places reported only light damage consisting of little more than downed trees and power lines.

 

"I think it's a little strong to say we dodged a bullet. However, it certainly could have turned out worse for the Hampton Roads area" in Virginia, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Montefusco.

 

At the same time, officials warned of the possibility of extreme flooding as runoff from the storm makes its way into creeks and rivers.

 

Irene brought six inches to a foot of rain to many places along the East Coast. In one eastern North Carolina neighborhood, two-dozen homes were destroyed by flooding and officials feared more damage could be uncovered there.

 

Some areas of the Northeast had soggy ground even before the storm because of an extremely rainy August.

 

"We are going to look at a record flooding situation here, both at the shore and inland," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on ABC's "This Week."

 

The storm was still pummeling the New York City area and New England on Sunday morning, dropping below hurricane strength but still dangerous with 65 mph winds and heavy downpours.

 

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had initially warned that Irene could be a "catastrophic" monster with record storm surges of up to 8 feet.

 

But in Virginia Beach, the city posted on Twitter late Saturday that initial reports were promising, with the resort area suffering minimal damage. And in Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan reported: "Scattered power outages. No reports of major damage!"

 

In Lusby, Md., Constellation Energy Nuclear Group said one of two nuclear reactors at Calvert Cliffs went off-line automatically because of Irene's winds. Constellation said the plant was safe.

 

Floodwaters were rising across New Jersey, and more than 2,000 National Guardsmen were helping with search and rescue work as officials assessed the damage. The Raritan River, which caused disastrous flooding after it was swelled by rain from Hurricane Floyd 12 years ago, was not expected to crest until Sunday evening.

 

Still, with skies clearing Sunday morning, some of those living on the coast were cautiously optimistic.

 

After spending the night hunkered down in his Pleasantville, N.J., home overnight without electricity, Harry Webber went outside in a fruitless search for place to buy a cup of coffee.

 

"I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of my town is still in one piece," he said.

 

Late last week, Irene was a fearsome Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of around 115 mph as it barreled across open water toward the East Coast. Forecasters predicted it could grow to a scarier Category 4 before blowing ashore.

 

By Friday, though, the storm began losing steam. It came ashore the next day in North Carolina a mere Category 1 with winds of about 85 mph, and had weakened into a tropical storm by the time its eye hit New York City on Sunday.

 

While the National Hurricane Center accurately predicted Irene's track, the agency's director acknowledged that forecasting the strength of the winds days in advance can be difficult because of the myriad factors involved.

 

"We're not completely sure how the interplay of various features is causing the strength of a storm to change," said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center.

 

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said that Irene inflicted significant damage along her state's coast, but that the full extent was unclear because some areas were unreachable because of high water or downed power lines.

 

Perdue planned an aerial tour Sunday of the hardest-hit counties after TV coverage showed downed trees, toppled utility poles and power lines and mangled awnings.

 

In North Carolina's Craven County, officials said that as many as 25 homes were destroyed by swells from the Neuse River in a neighborhood that was hit hard by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The fire department rescued people from a handful of houses on Saturday.

 

Officials in North Carolina's Dare County said they were advised there was extensive flooding that needed to be checked out. About 2,500 people on Hatteras Island have been cut off by damaged roads, and there are plans to bring them supplies by ferry. It's not clear yet how bad damage was on the island.

 

Elsewhere, authorities suggested Irene didn't create the kind of havoc that had been anticipated.

 

"We were prepared for a lot worse, but we got lucky on this one," said Bruce Shell, New Hanover County, N.C., manager.

 

He said many of the 70,000 homes that lost power Saturday were back online in the evening and a wastewater spill at Wrightsville Beach appeared to be minor.

 

Pinehurst dentist Harwell Palmer said his home in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., lost a few pieces of siding and there was some street flooding, but a pier that took a pounding from the waves was still standing. The storm did gobble up some of the sand.

 

"The main concern we will have going forward is the loss of beach," he said.

 

The question still facing the region was whether Irene's effects over the next few days would match the mess left behind by such storms as Floyd and Isabel.

 

In 1999, Floyd dropped at least 15 inches of rain on eastern North Carolina. The flooding was the most damaging in the state's history, topping $3 billion in North Carolina. Four years later, Isabel brought hurricane conditions to eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia, causing about $1 billion in damage.

 

In the resort town of Ocean City, Md., damage appeared minimal. A few small trees along a major road had been uprooted. Scattered piles of sand about two feet high covered areas of the boardwalk. The end of a wooden pier was sagging and a wooden railing was askew.

 

At the Quietstorm surf shop on the boardwalk, part of a wall where the shop's name is advertised had been torn off, exposing wiring and scattering insulation. Locals, though, said they had seen worse during ordinary storms.

 

"I think we dodged a bullet," said LeAnn Price.

********

A state-by-state look at Irene dangers:

CONNECTICUT

__ Irene made landfall Sunday afternoon on the state's shoreline with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.

__ One person was killed by a fire in Prospect that was apparently caused by downed wires.

__ Officials warned of possible flooding as a storm surge of 4 to 8 feet coincided with an unusually high tide in Long Island Sound.

__ Thousands were evacuated along the shoreline, with more than 30 municipalities directing people to leave their homes.

__ Last hurricane to hit was Bob in 1991.

__ State of emergency declared. National Guard mobilized.

DELAWARE

__ At least 36,000 homes and businesses without power.

__ Apparent tornado damages 15 structures near Lewes. Another touched down in Wicomico County. No injuries reported.

__ Governor says worst of Irene passed Sunday and he plans helicopter tour of affected areas.

__ Last hurricane to hit was Floyd in 1999.

FLORIDA

__ Surfer killed after being tossed off his board by heavy waves caused by hurricane. Officials say a New Jersey tourist also died in rough surf.

MAINE

__ Heavy rains reached state Sunday afternoon.

__ Thousands lose power.

__ Governor declared an emergency.

__ Potential for flooding rains and gusty winds.

__ No evacuations planned.

__ Lobstermen began moving their fishing gear farther offshore to avoid damage amid expectations of 30-foot seas.

MARYLAND

__ More than 830,000 homes and businesses reported without power.

__ State police report an apparent tornado touchdown on the lower Eastern Shore; no injuries.

__ National Weather Service warns of flooding in parts of southern and central Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

__ Up to 8 inches of rain on lower Eastern Shore.

__ Maryland Transit Administration suspends service.

__ Last hurricane to hit was Floyd in 1999.

MASSACHUSETTS

__ Irene reaches southern New England on Sunday.

__ The governor deployed 500 National Guard troops, saying an additional 2,000 troops will be activated Saturday.

__ In Boston, public transportation was shut down Sunday.

__ Mandatory evacuations were not ordered.

__ Last hurricane to hit was Bob in 1991.

__ Red Cross is positioning emergency response vehicles, mobilizing disaster workers and preparing supplies.

__ Forecasts placed the storm's track through western Massachusetts.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

__ Drenching rain and high winds reach state Sunday afternoon.

__ More than 100,000 homes and businesses lose power.

__ No evacuations planned.

__ Governor urged people to stay off the roads and beaches.

__ The Red Cross planned to open four shelters.

__ Organizers of the annual Hampton Beach Talent Competition condensed the three-night schedule to two, telling competitors "it's one song for all the marbles."

NEW JERSEY

__ Irene makes landfall along the New Jersey coast near Little Egg Inlet with 75-mph winds, the first hurricane to make landfall in the state in more than a century.

__ Mandatory evacuations ordered for nearly 1 million visitors and residents.

__ 20-year-old woman who had called police to ask for help getting out of her flooded car in Salem County was found dead in the vehicle eight hours later.

__ Governor says more than 15,000 people in shelters.

__ New Jersey Transit trains and buses shut down.

__ Atlantic City casinos shut down for only the third time since gambling was legalized 33 years ago.

NEW YORK

__ Irene makes landfall Sunday near Coney Island.

__ In Manhattan, some streets flooded, and two major thoroughfares closed.

__ More than 905,000 homes and businesses statewide lose power, about half on Long Island.

__ Southbound lanes of the New York State Thruway are closed for 137 miles from Albany to West Nyack. Northbound lanes are shut for 90 miles from Westchester County to Saugerties.

__ Local and state police report other closures and suggest people stay off the roads.

__ Bungalows float down streets in Queens. Rescuers search for anyone inside.

__ Mandatory evacuations ordered for New York City residents in low-lying coastal areas that are home to 370,000. Order lifted at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

__ New York City's public transit system, the nation's biggest, was shut down until at least Monday. The five main New York-area airports also closed. As of 2:30 Sunday, there was still no timetable for restarting subways or regional rail systems.

__ Taxis in New York City switch from metered fares to zone fares.

NORTH CAROLINA

__ Hurricane made landfall Saturday morning near Cape Lookout. Storm surge prediction of up to 11 feet in Pamlico Sound and up to 9 feet along Outer Banks.

__ At least five people killed.

__ More than 560,000 people lost electricity.

__ The Neuse River pours over its banks and into the city of New Bern. Several dozen people had to be rescued from homes as up to 4 feet of water rushed in.

__ More than 60 shelters open in 26 counties.

__ 1,300 prisoners evacuated from two coastal prisons.

__ Ferry service suspended until winds subside.

__ Last hurricane to hit was Isabel in 2003.

__ Governor headed out on aerial tour of hardest-hit counties.

PENNSYLVANIA

__ One man killed in Palmyra when a tree limb fell on his camping tent.

__ Flood and flash flood warnings in several counties in central and eastern portions of the state.

__ More than 500,000 lost power across the state.

__ Governor declared state of emergency.

__ A half-foot of rain fell in Philadelphia. A state of emergency declared by the mayor on Saturday — the first since one triggered by racial tensions in 1986 — was lifted Sunday. The rainfall came on top of an already single-month record of more than 13 inches.

__ Mass transit serving Philadelphia resumed bus, trolley and subway service, but regional trains to the suburbs still closed.

__ Last hurricane to hit was Floyd in 1999.

RHODE ISLAND

__ Irene made landfall Sunday as tropical storm.

__ More than 200,000 customers lost power.

__ Officials warned of tidal surges that could bring significant coastal flooding during the evening high tide Sunday.

__ Federal and state emergencies declared.

__ Mandatory evacuations ordered for low-lying communities including Bristol, Charlestown, Narragansett, South Kingstown, and Westerly. Other communities have voluntary evacuation orders.

__ Last hurricane to hit was Bob in 1991, which made landfall twice.

__ Residents warned to expect prolonged power outages and property damage.

__ 300 National Guard troops on standby.

SOUTH CAROLINA

__ Irene was moving away from the state Saturday morning.

__ No mandatory evacuations ordered.

__ Last hurricane to hit was Charley in 2004.

__ Beach erosion reported at high tide Friday evening on Edisto Island and Folly Beach.

__ About 5,000 customers lost power from storms in Irene's outer bands.

VERMONT

__ Heavy rains began falling early Sunday, with flash flooding and evacuations ongoing in southern Vermont by late morning.

__ Bad conditions and flooding were expected to spread northerly through the day, with rivers in northern Vermont cresting late Sunday night or early Monday.

__ The Red Cross opened with shelters, with the one in Brattleboro housing about 50 people by midday Sunday.

__ Utilities reported about 18,000 power outages as of midday, with more heavy rain and high winds expected.

VIRGINIA

__ Millions lose power.

__ Officials say the full extent of the damage may not be known for days because some roads could remain impassible and rivers have yet to crest.

__ Suffolk received 11 inches of rain and other localities east of Interstate 95 generally received 5-10 inches.

__ Mandatory evacuations ordered for at least 11 localities, among them the Sandbridge section of Virginia Beach, a barrier island dotted with rentals, Accomack on the Eastern Shore, and for low-lying areas of Norfolk, Hampton and Portsmouth.

__ Three storm-related deaths reported.

__ Apparent tornado heavily damages five homes in the Sandbridge area.

__ Last hurricane to hit the state was Isabel in 2003.

__ The Navy ordered the Second Fleet out to sea to escape the storm.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

__ At least 36,000 homes and businesses without power.

__ About 200 trees were down around the city.

__ Approach of hurricane forced postponement of Sunday's dedication of Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

__ Last hurricane to hit was Hazel in 1954.

__ Public transit in nation's capital was to run on schedule Sunday.

Click on headlines to the right for the latest updates, or click here for all our coverage.

With most of the businesses in the Watch Hill section of Westerly boarded up,  people order ice cream at St. Clair Annex on Saturday, the day before Hurricane Irene was expected to hit the area.  Employees of St. Clair Annex said they had been serving food and ice cream all day and were planning to remain open until 6 p.m.
With most of the businesses in the Watch Hill section of Westerly boarded up, people order ice cream at St. Clair Annex on Saturday, the day before Hurricane Irene was expected to hit the area. Employees of St. Clair Annex said they had been serving food and ice cream all day and were planning to remain open until 6 p.m. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo
Donna Hathaway, far right, a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross, checks on Teresa Devine, second from right, of Groton, who is seated with other guests at the Red Cross Shelter at Robert E. Fitch Senior High School in Groton. The shelter was opened for people in the area who were evacuated Saturday, in advance of Hurricane Irene.
Donna Hathaway, far right, a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross, checks on Teresa Devine, second from right, of Groton, who is seated with other guests at the Red Cross Shelter at Robert E. Fitch Senior High School in Groton. The shelter was opened for people in the area who were evacuated Saturday, in advance of Hurricane Irene. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo
Surf crashes on the Guthrie Beach area along Pequot Ave. in New London as Tropical Storm Irene hits the region Sunday, August 28, 2011.
Surf crashes on the Guthrie Beach area along Pequot Ave. in New London as Tropical Storm Irene hits the region Sunday, August 28, 2011. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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