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EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Shoreline residents on Monday picked through the rubble of homes destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene, hoping to salvage keepsakes as helicopters buzzed overhead and utility crews began the task of restoring power to more than 700,000 homes and businesses across Connecticut.
In East Haven's hard-hit Cosey Beach area, Mayor April Capone told homeowners that it will take time for them to recover physically and emotionally. Two priests joined the mayor at a gathering inside a packed firehouse, and she said 25 homes were lost in a neighborhood that saw "comprehensive" devastation.
Louis Miller, 77, said he was hoping to recover photo albums and paintings from his destroyed summer home.
"It was 63 years of memories. My kids grew up there during the summers," said Miller, of Somerset, N.J. who said the home had been in his family since 1943.
The storm, which raked the mid-Atlantic coast as a hurricane before hitting Connecticut on Sunday, was blamed for two deaths in the state: A man who fell off a canoe on a flooded Bristol street and a woman who died in a fire caused by downed wires in Prospect.
As coastal communities turned their attention to the recovery effort, many inland towns remained focused on the threat from rising rivers. On Sunday evening, the town of Farmington urged people on some streets to leave their homes and seek higher ground for their protection from the Farmington River.
The rain dumped by Irene has pushed three rivers in Connecticut to moderate flood stage and some are not expected to reach their highest level until Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. The Connecticut River at Thompsonville will approach major flood stage Monday and is expected to cause widespread flooding in nearby low-lying areas.
"There are rivers across the state that will crest in the next few days, and residents in those areas need to heed the warnings of public safety officials," said Scott DeVico, a spokesman for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
On a helicopter tour of the state, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy saw the destruction in East Haven and flooded fields along Connecticut's rivers. At a news briefing, he said he was struck most by the damage in Simsbury and other areas long the Farmington River, where he saw many farm buildings swamped with water. Tree limbs, downed wires and storm-tossed debris littered roads across the state.
"Clearly this could have been worse, but it was pretty bad out there," Malloy said.
More than 700,000 power customers — or about half the state — were without power Monday morning. Crews from as far away as Colorado were coming to Connecticut on Monday to help with restoration efforts.
Connecticut Light & Power reported just over 589,000 outages by midday Monday, or slightly less than half the company's customers. The smaller United Illuminating Co. had more than 107,000 outages in its coverage area, which includes the cities of New Haven and Bridgeport.
CL&P Spokesman Mitch Gross said more than 800 crews were out removing trees from downed lines and restoring electricity, but the company expects the process will take a week or more to finish.
"When the trees come down, it's not that they just snap the wire and we just snap the wire back up on the pole," he said. "Often it takes the wire or sections of wire, the pole or multiple poles, plus transformers, and all of this has to be rebuilt. It's possible in sections of the state we will be rebuilding entire sections of our distribution system."
An extended outage could be dangerous for some. Disabled residents of a Milford home, who were sitting in the dark after a generator failed, said they were worried about their health.
"Once the refrigerator gets warm, my insulin goes bad. I could go into diabetic shock. It's kind of scary because we don't know how long it's going to be out for," said Pat Dillon, 52, who was partially paralyzed from a stroke.
With hundreds of towers damaged across the state, the governor asked residents to limit their cellphone use while crews carry out repairs.
The body of a man who went canoeing down a flooded East Main Street in Bristol was recovered late Sunday night in Plainville, police said. Shane Seaver, 46, of Bristol, and another man went canoeing after waters from the Pequabuck River flooded parts of the city, but his canoe capsized, police said. The other man made it to safety.
An 89-year-old woman died early Sunday and her husband was severely injured when a falling tree limb pulled power lines down onto their house in Prospect. The Waterbury Republican-American reported Charlotte Levine died in the fire. Her husband, James Levine, was in critical condition in the burn unit of Bridgeport Hospital.
In Fairfield, firefighters said six members of a family were rushed to a hospital after they were overcome by high levels of carbon monoxide from a portable generator. Two men, one woman and two children ages 9 and 13 were found on the front lawn and firefighters removed a second woman from inside the home.
As the storm approached, 32 municipalities called for evacuations and the governor said 1,600 people rode out the storm in shelters. Those who decided to ride the storm out at homes along the water had harrowing experiences.
"The sound of the wind, I can't get it out of my head. It was so forceful and so mean," said Michelle Liettieri, 57, who rolled up rugs and stuffed them against her sliding glass doors to keep the ocean water out of her East Haven home. She said she and her husband thought about evacuating but stuck it out to do what they could to protect the house.
Service on the Metro-North commuter railroad was expected to resume on a limited schedule beginning at 2 p.m. Monday.
Bradley International Airport north of Hartford was open and airport officials hoped to return to a normal schedule sometime Monday.