NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/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 lost power, including many in the Tri-State Area. At least 14 deaths were blamed on the storm.
The FDNY has made dozens of water rescues around the city due to Irene. The department says it has rescued 61 adults and 3 babies from 21 houses.
A spokesman says Fire Department responders in boats rescued 26 people from three families on Staten Island this morning after their three homes were flooded by more than 5 feet of water.
In Queens, rescue workers were using boats to search bungalows that were actually floating down the street. Fire Department staff were performing the searches to make sure no one was trapped inside.
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.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie warned that while the worst of the storm was over, the aftermath would cause “a major, if not record flooding event” for the state.
Saying that he had “no regrets” about evacuating people on the Jersey Shore, the governor said that officials would try to get people back to their homes “as quickly as possible.”
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.
The storm 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.
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.
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