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Irene moves to Canada, US damage estimated at $7 billion
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Aug 29, 2011

Transport slowly resumes in New York
New York (AFP) Aug 29, 2011 - Transportation limped back to normal in New York on Monday morning after a hurricane drenched the city, with subway service resuming but major rail service still disrupted.

Hurricane Irene, which was later downgraded to a tropical storm, largely spared New Yorkers as it tore through the US east coast this weekend but the metropolis ordered an unprecedented shutdown of the subway from Saturday.

The country's largest subway system returned to service early Monday "with very limited exceptions" and bus routes were mostly normal with some detours, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in an advisory.

But it said that the Metro North railroad, which connects New York with its suburbs in Westchester County and Connecticut, was still down due to "significant damage" to the system and continued overflow from streams.

New Jersey Transit, another lifeline for commuters, suspended all but one rail line until further notice as it cleans up damage. But New Jersey Transit was running buses and light rail service, which runs within the state's urban centers.

National rail operator Amtrak also reported severe disruptions. It canceled all service of its Acela Express, its line between Boston and Washington which is popular among business travelers between the East Coast's major cities.

Amtrak resumed service between Philadelphia and Washington, but kept all trains off the tracks between Philadelphia and Boston "due to the extensive flooding, debris on tracks and power issues," an advisory said.

The Federal Aviation Administration reopened New York's three major airports. Planes began arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 6:00 am (1000 GMT) and departures were to start at noon (1600 GMT), but airport authorities warned passengers to expect delays.

The remnants of Irene reached Canada Monday after barreling through the northeastern United States where the storm claimed at least 18 lives and caused estimated economic damage of up to $7 billion.

Millions of people were without power along the East Coast after the huge storm -- now downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone -- passed over the Big Apple and headed for Canada.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center warned late Sunday of "major river flooding occurring in parts of the northeast," after President Barack Obama cautioned that recovery efforts would last for "weeks or longer."

"I want people to understand that this is not over," Obama said in a short statement in the White House Rose Garden.

"I do want to underscore that the impacts of this storm will be felt for some time... Power may be out for days in some areas."

The governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, said his state was in "tough shape" while New York state's Andrew Cuomo warned of "tremendous flooding" in the Catskill Mountain area north of Manhattan.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie said roads and rails were "impassable" in some areas, and much of the state had seen "significant flooding."

Localized flooding occurred in the south and east of Manhattan, with more serious incidents in Brooklyn, where the famed Coney Island amusement park took a battering and outlying beaches were swamped.

There was heavy flooding along the low-lying south shore of Long Island where high tides, rain and ocean surge drove waves right up against expensive beach houses. Floods were also reported far inland after torrential rain.

At least 18 deaths were blamed on the storm, which first slammed into North Carolina on Saturday as a Category One hurricane, before turning north up the coast and weakening.

The youngest victim, an 11-year-old boy, died when a tree crashed through his apartment building in Newport News, Virginia.

Jose Miranda, director of Eqecat Inc., a catastrophic risk management firm from Oakland, California, told The Los Angeles Times that the storm could cost insurers from $1.5 billion to $3 billion to cover claims for damaged homes, vehicles and businesses.

Total damage, including uninsured losses, could range from $5 billion to $7 billion, he said.

By comparison, Hurricane Katrina which flooded much of New Orleans in 2005, reportedly cost more than $70 billion in insured losses alone, the paper noted.

"I think the damage is much less severe than had been feared and the economic impact will, therefore, be a lot smaller than people predicted," The Times quoted Mark Zandi, chief economist at research firm Moody's Analytics, as saying.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced that New York area airports -- John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia and Newark -- would reopen on Monday. More than 10,000 flights were cancelled across the eastern United States.

The New York Stock Exchange said it was set to reopen as normal Monday morning.

"The good news is the worst is over and we will soon return to restore and return mode," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, announcing that 370,000 people ordered to evacuate could now go back home.

More than a million evacuees in New Jersey were also headed home, Christie said.

City officials however warned that commuting into New York could be a nightmare this week with no firm indication of when public transport would be back on track following an unprecedented shut-down just ahead of the hurricane.

"You're going to have a tough commute in the morning," mass transit chairman Jay Walder said.

Walder said buses could start running soon, but subway trains needed extensive testing of lines and equipment.

Irene also left swaths of territory without power, including one million in New York state, most of them on Long Island, according to Cuomo.

In New Jersey, 650,000 people had lost power supplies, while in the greater Washington area, nearly two million people lost electricity. In Massachusetts, 500,000 customers were without power.

Virginia's Governor Bob McDonnell told MSNBC his state had seen the second biggest power outage in its history.

"It's going to be days, perhaps a week, before all the power's restored. We just ask people to be patient," he said.

About 200,000 households have lost power in Canada, officials said.

Some 65 million people live in the urban corridor from Washington north to Boston. More than 4.5 million customers lost power in that area and well inland.

Hurricanes are rare in the northeastern United States -- the last major hurricane to hit New York was Gloria in 1985.

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center reported that a new tropical storm, Jose, had formed and was approaching Bermuda.

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Irene blamed for 33 deaths in US
Washington (AFP) Aug 29, 2011 - Hurricane Irene is being blamed for at least 33 deaths in 10 eastern US states, emergency officials and local media said Monday, as many parts of the northeast suffered disastrous flooding.

The toll includes six fatalities each in New York state and North Carolina, five in Pennsylvania, four each in New Jersey and Virginia, two each in Connecticut, Florida and Vermont, and one each in Maryland and Massachusetts.

Most of the fatalities were caused by falling trees, road accidents, or people being swept away by floodwater as Irene, now downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone over Canada, wreaked havoc up the eastern seaboard.

The youngest fatalities were an 11-year-old boy killed by a falling tree in his apartment on the Virginia coast and a 15-year-old girl who died in a car accident in North Carolina when the traffic lights failed.

Six deaths were being blamed on Irene in New York state, including a man who was electrocuted as he tried to save a child who had gone into a flooded street with downed wires.

The New York Police Department confirmed one of the fatalities, that of a 68-year-old father of 13 in the Bronx who was found dead in the water after he went to check on his boat.

Massachusetts reported its first death: a man electrocuted by a downed power line, emergency management spokesman Scott MacLeod told AFP.

A New Jersey rescuer died in hospital of injuries sustained on Sunday when he was swept away by floodwaters in Princeton. He had been on life support and was prematurely announced as dead on Sunday by Governor Chris Christie.

In Canada, Quebec police said one man had been swept away in Yamaska, northeast of Montreal when his car plunged into a chasm created by a washed-out road, but would not yet confirm his death.

More fatalities are feared after Irene barreled up the east coast late Sunday into the densely populated northeastern states of Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and then on into Canada, dumping heavy rains.

Millions of people in the United States were still without power and officials warned that flood damage from the massive storm's heavy rains may be felt for days.

Irene earlier last week left at least five people dead in the Caribbean, including one in the US territory of Puerto Rico and two each in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

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