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Irene gone? New Jersey still flooding, evacuating

/ Source: NBC, msnbc.com and news services

Hundreds of people evacuated in northern New Jersey on Tuesday as flooding continued nearly three days after Hurricane Irene tore through, and one town was told it would be swamped for up to a week.

In Vermont, several towns cut off by destroyed roads got supplies airlifted in, while in N.Y.'s Catskill Mountains national guardsman arrived to help clean up. Asked one guard: "Where do you start?"

Across the East Coast, power outages, while down by half, impacted millions on Tuesday.

Irene has been blamed for at least the latest being a Maine couple who died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

As for damage estimates, North Carolina on Tuesday became the first state to come up with a preliminary figure: 1,100 homes destroyed and at least $70 million in costs to state infrastructure, including the severed highway linking Hatteras Island to the mainland.

'Raging' N.J. river In New Jersey, the Passaic, Ramapo and Pompton rivers were still overflowing.

In Wallington, 1,000 families were ordered to evacuate Tuesday evening as the Passaic was not expected to crest until late Tuesday night, .

"Many people were caught off guard," said James Furtak, acting emergency management coordinator of the borough of 11,000 residents. "Their basements were flooded up to the ceiling and the first floor."

People were climbing out windows to get out of their flooded homes, he said.

In Patterson, search and rescue teams pulled nearly 600 people from homes in recent days with the most intense efforts Tuesday when the Passaic measured 13 feet above flood stage, the highest level since 1903, said Paterson Police Sgt. Alex Popov.

Firefighters rescued some by boat and the National Guard saved others by truck, taking them to a Red Cross shelter.

"Some are standing there in the doorway. Some are coming out of their windows," Popov said.

"It's raging," he said of the Passaic, which runs through Patterson.

The Passaic crested in Fairfield Monday night at 24.12 feet, breaking the record set in 1903 of 23.2 feet, said Fairfield Deputy Police Chief Anthony Manna.



Fairfield is surrounded on three sides by the curving Passaic, and National Guard troops were using boats to rescue stranded residents stranded by the floods, he said.

"I believe it's going to continue well into Wednesday," Manna said. Officials said the town will likely be swamped for a week.

The force of floods from the Pequannock and Ramapo rivers in Pompton Lakes pushed buildings off their foundations, and two dozen homes in the flooded area have already been condemned, said Vito Gadaleta, administrator for the borough of 12,000 residents.

He said the Ramapo was receding, but the Pequannock was still causing problems, with some neighborhoods under several feet of water.

"Some areas we cannot get into still," he said.

In Wayne, where major roads were blocked due to flooding from the Passaic, Mike Holland paddled a canoe from his home on Trovela Drive, where parked cars were almost completely underwater.

"This is the worst one," he said, having survived several floods in the neighborhood.

Marguerite Ball, another resident of Wayne, described the flooding as "heartbreaking" for the working class area that tends to flood from the Passaic and the nearby Pequannock as well.

"People just get cleaned out, cleaned up, rebuild and it happens again and again," she said.

In West Caldwell, many roads were impassable, thanks to the Passaic.

Textile company worker Joe Dilizia, 70, said he could not get to his job because a section of Bloomfield Avenue had been transformed into a small lake.

"I guess I'm going to head home and wait a couple more days," Dilizia said through the window of his car. "It all depends on the river as it starts to recede."

Nine river locations reached or surpassed record flooding levels across northern New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie said at a media briefing on Tuesday.

Catskills catastrophe
Upstate New York also felt Irene's wrath, with several towns cut off by flooded roads and bridges.

Picturesque Route 23, which connects tiny towns that dot the Catskill Mountains, is testament to Irene's fury.

Record rainfall forced creeks to swell, and walls of water poured down from the mountains to upend huge slabs of asphalt, wash homes off their foundations and leave residents unaccustomed to natural disasters stunned by the damage.

In Windham, a town of about 1,700 known for its ski resort, the main street is lined with deep muddy ditches where sidewalks used to be.

A garage slipped into a creek that winds through town and crashed into a bridge. Debris is piled high.

"We just weren't ready for this," said Pat Rothbard, owner of a summer home in nearby Hunter.

Three people in the area were killed, including a 60-year-old woman whose house was swept away while she was trapped inside and a 23-year-old man whose car hydroplaned and flipped several times.

Another man was killed as he helped a neighbor move his car out of the flood's path.

Starting on Monday, National Guard troops and local authorities kicked off what is likely to be a long, expensive recovery process. Most of the area lacks electricity and telephone lines, and an unknown number of people remain isolated in mountaintop vacation homes.

"Where do you start?" asked one guardsman, surveying damage at a gas station in the heart of Windham.

Nearby Prattsville was nearly wiped off the map when the roads into town and the bridges that take travelers into the mountains were destroyed. Nearly 100 people had to be rescued from a motel and surrounding campgrounds.

Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said from a command center in the town of Cairo that the estimated cost of the damage has yet to be calculated.

As for Route 23 and other decimated roads, Groden said, it will be difficult to begin repairs before asphalt suppliers shut down for the winter.

"We could be driving on stone roads for a long time," he said.

400 stranded at Vt. resort In Vermont, some 400 people were stranded at t he Killington ski resort due to road damage, and part of a lodge had collapsed in the earlier rain and flooding, NBC affiliate WPTZ-TV reported Tuesday.

The National Guard was arranging a drop of food, water, blankets and cots for Killington, Mendon and Pittsfield. They were also arranging for prescription deliveries.

When Irene unleashed her wrath on the town of Newfane, Martin and Sue Saylor were among the lucky ones. All they lost was the road to their hillside home, and their utilities.

Rivers of rainwater coursed down their hill, washing out the road that leads to their road. Just below their home deep in the woods, the Rock River rose up out of its banks, claiming another roadway.

Suddenly, the Saylors' feet became their sole transportation.

"Stranded, nowhere to go," said Martin Saylor, 57, standing by the Rock River on Monday, waiting for his brother to bring in supplies. "Don't want to leave my house because I don't know who's going to break in or whatever. I just don't know what to do."

The capricious storm, which veered into Vermont in its final hours, dumped up to 11 inches of rain in some places and turned placid little mountain streams into roaring brown torrents that smashed buildings, ripped homes from their foundation and washed out roads all across the state.

Some Vermont rivers still haven't reached their peak.

On Monday, the Otter Creek at Rutland was still more than three feet above flood stage, and meteorologist Andrew Loconto said projections are the river won't drop below flood stage until Wednesday.

At least three people died in Vermont.

Homeowners and towns in land-locked Vermont faced a sobering new reality — no way in or out. Washed-out roads and bridges left them — for now — inaccessible by automobile.

"We always had that truism that said 'Yup, yah can't get there from here.' In fact, that's come to pass down here," said Newfane Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli. "There are certain pockets where you can't get there from here, at least not by a car."

State transportation maintenance crews and contractors hired by the state were working to restore travel on some of the 260 roads that had been closed due to storm damage. Vermont also had 30 highway bridges closed.

In Newfane (pop. 1,710), the storm's effects were staggering: About 150 people were unable to drive cars to their homes, 30 of them effectively stranded in theirs, seven bridges were washed out, two homes were knocked from their foundations by surging floodwaters and one 19th century grist mill smashed into kindling wood right where it stood.

Gov. Peter Shumlin called it Vermont's worst flooding in a century.

For the Saylors, there were more immediate concerns. "I need a shower," said Sue Saylor. "I need water. I need electricity. It's rough."

More than 2.8 million customers still without power
Power outages were still widespread from north to south on Tuesday, with utilities reporting more than 2.8 million homes and businesses without electricity. That translates into nearly 6 million people since the power industry typically multiplies customers by 2 to estimate the total number of individuals in homes and businesses.

In Connecticut, around 509,000, or 32 percent of all customers in the state, were still in the dark Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Energy reported. Gov. Dannel Malloy made a plea on MSNBC-TV for utilities from states not hit by Irene to send crews to his state for repairs.

New York state reported that 525,000 customers were without power.

Crews have been restoring power at a fast rate, but tens of thousands of homeowners and businesses might not get theirs back for a week or more.

Entire communities are still waiting for power. Eastham, Mass., on Cape Cod is still mostly cut off. In Wakefield, N.H., 70 percent of the town's customers are off the grid. And nearly half of the 491,000 homes and businesses in the Richmond, Va., metro area are blacked out.

Power companies say their first priority is to reconnect hospitals, police stations, emergency call centers and other critical services. After that they'll try to get schools back online in time for the fall semester. Individual neighborhoods and homes will be next on the list.

During the course of Irene, 7.4 million customers lost power — nearly double the outages from the last hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. in 2008.

The death toll, which had stood at 21 as of Sunday night, rose sharply Monday as bodies were pulled from floodwaters and people were electrocuted by downed power lines.

In North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore along the Outer Banks on Saturday before heading for New York and New England, 1,000 people were still in emergency shelters, awaiting word on their homes.

John Bone, president of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce in Kill Devil Hills, said tourists were already returning after the upper Outer Banks escaped major damage.

"We were very fortunate in many respects," he said. "It could have been a lot worse."

Airlines said it would be days before the thousands of passengers stranded by Irene find their way home. Some Amtrak service in the Northeast was limited or suspended. Commuter train service between New Jersey and New York City resumed Tuesday, except for one line that was still dealing with flooding.

Early estimates put Irene's damage at $7 billion to $10 billion, much smaller than the impact of monster storms such as Hurricane Katrina, which did more than $100 billion in damage. Irene's effects are small compared to the overall U.S. economy, which produces about $14 trillion worth of goods and services every year.