The death toll from Hurricane Irene, later downgraded to a tropical storm, rose dramatically Monday as at least 35 people were reportedly killed by the storm that ripped its way up the East Coast and into New England.
Earlier, officials estimated that at least 22 had died across 10 states. But as the massive cleanup and recovery effort got underway Monday, authorities tracing Irene’s destructive path raised the number of dead, according to the Associated Press.
Among the fatalities: An 89-year-old Connecticut woman who was killed when a falling tree limb pulled power lines down on her home, starting a fire; and a 46-year-old man who tried to canoe down a flooded street. The canoe capsized, he disappeared, and his body was later recovered.
The storm is estimated to have caused up to $7-billion worth of damage, a number that could grow, along with the death toll, as emergency assessments and flooding woes continue.
Much of New York was regaining its stride — airports resuming flights, subways reopening — but swaths of Vermont were underwater after Irene dumped more than 5 inches of rain on the region. Authorities continue to warn residents there to remain indoors until the rising waters receded.
Scott Towle, 54, a native of Brattleboro, Vermont, was stunned when he finally got a look at at the storm-swollen Whetstone Brook near his home. Normally, the tributary is a bubbling stream. “I’ve lived in Brattleboro all my life and I’ve never seen it like that,” he said. “It was a raging torrent. You could hear boulders, trees, everything going down through. It took out the road; it took out a couple of houses; it took out a bridge; it took out most of that street.”
About 5 milllion residents were left without electicity Monday morning, but authorities up and down the coast were chipping away at that number. In New York City, the majority of customers were expected to have power by the end of the day Thursday, and much of the rest of the area by Friday.
Authorities warned, however, that any additional problems — such as trees ripping free of saturated earth and tearing down power lines, or blocked or flooded roads — could hamper restoration.
Meanwhile, New Jersey and North Carolina were trying to help businesses salvage what remained of the dwindling days of summer. Officials there were encouraging tourists to head back to the sand and the surf for Labor Day weekend.
A National Weather Service official said Monday that the threat of flooding remains a top concern in New York and much of New England, even well after the rains subsided.
David Vallee, the service’s hydrologist in charge of the Northeast, said that at one point 81 locations were at or above flood stage in the region, including a handful at record levels.
“While the flash flood threat … has for the most part ended, we still have some of the moderate-sized and larger rivers that still will take all of today to crest,” Vallee said, including the Hudson River near Albany, N.Y. And he said of rivers including the Connecticut, “we’re not likely to see the rivers crest and reach their highest river elevation until midweek.”
At the White House Monday, President Obama said the federal government would “make sure folks have all the support they need as they begin to assess and repair the damage left by the storm.”
“Our response continues, but I’m going to make sure that FEMA and other agencies are doing everything in their power to help people on the ground,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the media that federal officials were still working to get a sense of the financial toll, which could further strain the agency’s limited budget.