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New York dodges Irene's bullet
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Aug 28, 2011

Nancy Zakhary and Eddie Lima of Brooklyn wade through flood waters filling the intersection of Main St and Plymouth St in Dumbo Brooklyn as Hurricane Irene reaches the New York City Area on August 28, 2011 in New York City. Hurricane Irene hit New York as a Category 1 storm before being downgraded to a tropical storm. Photo courtesy AFP.

Tropical storm Irene lashed New York Sunday, shutting down America's largest city but sparing it serious damage after killing 14 people on the US east coast and flooding many parts of the region.

The eye of the storm -- downgraded from a hurricane but still packing 50-mile-an-hour (85-kilometer-an-hour) winds and driving rain -- passed over the Big Apple mid-morning, as millions went without power along the coast.

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.

"I want people to understand that this is not over," US President Barack 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. And the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer. Power may be out for days in some areas."

At least 14 deaths were blamed on the storm, which first slammed into North Carolina on Saturday with 85-mile-an-hour winds, 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.

Strong winds were expected in New York until nightfall Sunday, but the storm -- the first hurricane to hit the Big Apple in a generation -- was weakening as it continued up through Vermont towards Canada.

"The good news is the worst is over and we will soon return to restore and return mode," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

He announced that 370,000 people ordered to evacuate could now go back home. More than a million evacuees in New Jersey were also starting to return.

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

But New York state governor Andrew Cuomo warned there was "significant damage across the state," including "tremendous flooding" in the Catskill Mountains area north of New York City.

City officials 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.

Air travel chaos sparked by the closing Saturday of John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia and Newark also looked likely to drag on. Already more than 10,000 flights were cancelled across the eastern United States.

Christopher Ward, executive director of the area's Port Authority, said Sunday there could be "potential beginnings of service late tomorrow afternoon at best" and "hopefully" almost normal service on Tuesday.

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.

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.

Some 65 million people live in the urban corridor from Washington north to Boston, and experts have said the damage could run into the tens of billions of dollars.

In Atlantic City, a gambling resort on the New Jersey shore, locals started to put their lives back together, while counting the costs of a weekend shutdown during the high season.

"We were expecting to make good money, but you cannot fight with Mother Nature," said Riaz Rajput as he removed plywood storm screens from the windows of his shop.

On Cape Cod in Massachusetts, waves of up to six feet (1.8 meters) crashed over some coastal roads, but most residents and tourists let out a collective sigh of relief.

"We're having a little bit of a hurricane party," said T.J. Wolnar, who was confident his beachfront home could withstand the high winds.

"It's good the storm isn't as strong as it was going to be."

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.

earlier related report
Storm emergency not over: Obama
Washington (AFP) Aug 28, 2011 - US President Barack Obama said Sunday the Hurricane Irene recovery effort could go on for days or weeks, but hailed the disaster response operation as an "exemplary" display of good government.

The president, who took pains to show Americans he was in charge of the emergency effort, amid memories of the botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, also remembered the 14 people killed in the storm.

"I want people to understand that this is not over. Response and recovery efforts will be an ongoing operation," 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. And the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer. Power may be out for days in some areas," Obama said.

The president returned early from his vacation on Friday to deal with the Hurricane Irene response and led top homeland security officials in a massive federal and local operation on Sunday.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those who've lost loved ones. And those whose lives have been affected by the storm," Obama said.

"You need to know that America will be with you in your hour of need. While the storm has weakened as it moves north, it remains a dangerous storm that continues to produce heavy rains."

Obama, flanked by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate, said he remained concerned by significant flooding and widespread power outages.

He also paid tribute to the work of homeland security officials and emergency workers who he said had saved lives and property in recent days.

Obama also made a veiled political point, as he wages a daily battle with Republicans over the reach and size of government, an argument which will underpin the 2012 presidential election campaign.

"This has been an exemplary effort of how good government at every level should be responsive to people's needs, work to keep them safe and protect and promote the nation's prosperity," Obama said.

"I want to thank scientists who provide the information necessary for governors and mayors to make sound decisions, disaster response experts who made sure we were as prepared as possible, to national guard members and first responders who risked their lives to ensure their fellow citizens' safety -- all ordinary Americans who love their country and volunteer to do their part."

Katrina has been a constant subtext to Hurricane Irene and officials in Washington well remember the heavy political price then president George W. Bush paid for the chaotic federal and local response to that monster storm.

Obama could have ill afforded a similar disaster, as he is enduring one of the most testing passages of his presidency and has seen his approval ratings drop to around 40 percent as the economic recovery stumbles.

The eye of Irene, downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm but still packing 65-mile-an-hour (105-kilometer-an-hour) winds and driving rain -- passed over New York on Sunday as millions lost power along the coast.

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New York shrugs at 'Storm of the Century'
Rockaway Beach, New York (AFP) Aug 28, 2011 - Rain swept up motorists, beachfront parks were smashed and thousands spent a soggy night displaced, but for many New Yorkers, the purported "Storm of the Century" was a yawn.

On Rockaway Beach, one of the first areas of the city to be evacuated, stone outdoor chessboards and parts of a skateboarding rink were scattered near the sand as tropical storm Irene gave way to gray but calm skies.

"Thank God the damage is just this and not to houses," Tony Camacho said as he returned to his neighborhood in the early afternoon Sunday.

Neighbor Brad Palisi voiced relief that only outdoor property appeared to be damaged and, like many New Yorkers, questioned the unprecedented evacuation orders. He said authorities now had to follow up.

"The Rockaways often don't get as much attention as other parts of the city. So the question now is how much attention we will get when it comes to repairs," he said.

But Kevin Johnson, who defied the evacuation orders, said he wished he had left.

"When I saw the water coming past the boardwalk at 6:00 am and my lights started to flicker, I realize I really should have left," said Johnson, even though in the end his power stayed on.

Some meteorologists predicted that New York would see its first major hurricane hit since 1938. Leaders from President Barack Obama to Mayor Mike Bloomberg took frequently to the airwaves, urging people to follow authorities' advice.

But in a city famed for its stubbornness, many New Yorkers second-guessed the response, suggesting that authorities were most interested in ensuring that they would not be blamed later.

"They shouldn't have evacuated everyone. Now some people might have thousands of dollars in damages and they weren't around to stop it," said Joe Perota, who was out walking his dog in Coney Island.

"They need to think about the weather and not just look at satellites," he said.

Perota was outside strolling just an hour after Coney Island, a beachside amusement strip, was suddenly filled with water -- the result of a storm surge that authorities had warned about.

An ocean of dirty sea water -- along with tree branches, discarded paper bags and other litter -- gushed through from the beach, the site of amusement rides and the Nathan's hot dog stand famed for its July 4 eating competitions.

Roads that appeared safe and dry were quickly submerged, with the few motorists braving the storm forced to make split-second decisions on which way to move, trying to guess which streets were on higher ground and for how long.

Several drivers who had been traveling peacefully were forced to get out and trudge into waist-deep water to push along their cars, looking feverishly for the best exit from a neighborhood suddenly under water.

An AFP team made a quick turn off Coney Island's Mermaid Avenue to find that the water was on the chase. The driver put the foot on the gas and found higher land with moments to spare, the smelly sea water already seeping into the passengers' windows.

But Jose Pabon, who is originally from Puerto Rico, was not too bothered as he came downstairs from his Coney Island home and saw a still-flooded side street.

"Back in Puerto Rico, the whole city could be closed down for days," he said.

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Hurricane Irene batters New York
New York (AFP) Aug 28, 2011
Hurricane Irene lashed New York Sunday, shutting down America's largest city and flooding outlying communities after killing at least nine people along the US east coast. The first hurricane to hit the Big Apple for a generation crashed into Manhattan's skyscrapers overnight, accompanied by lightning, reports of tornados and near horizontal walls of rain. As Irene approached the New Jers ... read more

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