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Sewer smell, dust follow Irene flooding, mud

/ Source: news services

Millions of residents in several Northeast states approached the Labor Day holiday weekend mired in mud, stuck in the dark or both — some so upset with the pace of power coming back that officials deployed police to protect utility crews.

It was also starting to stink.

"Everything smells like sewer because the water got up so high. It stinks so bad," Melody Hawkins, 55, said as she sat on the stoop of her home in Ludlow, one of more than a dozen towns in Vermont — an inland state normally protected from tropical storms — to face severe flooding.

"The thing that gets me is the dust. Look at the cars, they're all covered, and people still go barreling down the street, kicking it up," Hawkins said.

Lu Ann Wetherby, 67, said she had spent the past few days trying to clean the mud out of her basement.

"The mud. There's so much mud," Wetherby said. "We lost everything in the basement, all our Christmas decorations. Some of them went back 60 years."

High school students in Ludlow hauled mud-covered furniture from flooded houses, dumping it on lawns as the town dug out from the mess left by Hurricane Irene.

Lorraine Hughes, 60, walked through her nearly empty single-story house, which showed signs of the two-and-a-half feet of water it held on Sunday.

"You spend all your time to try to make something nice, and to see it destroyed, it's sickening, actually," said Hughes, a teacher at the nearby Okemo Mountain School, sorting through salvaged possessions. "I'll have to start from scratch."

In Gaysville, Vt., Don Fielder said the White River roared through his house, tearing the first floor off the foundation and filling a bathroom tub with mud. He was upbeat as he showed a visitor the damage, but said he's reluctant to go into town for fear he will cry when people ask about the home he built himself 16 years ago.

Other losses include a 1957 Baldwin piano and a collection of 300 Beanie Babies amassed by his daughter, who does not live with him but has a bedroom at his house.

"I bet that's in the river," he said.

Others face similar cleanups across the East Coast.

The upcoming long weekend, normally a celebration of the end of summer, will be a wet, stinky mess for hundreds of thousands of homeowners who suffered damage, their cities and towns submerged under floodwaters in states such as New York, New Jersey and Vermont.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama will visit Paterson, N.J., where currents of the Passaic River swept through the city of 150,000, flooding part of downtown and forcing the emergency evacuations of hundreds of people who likely underestimated the storm's ferocity.

In Vermont, the National Guard airlifted food and water to towns cut off by storm-damaged highways. Upstate New York saw rural mountain resorts flooded, ruining business for the holiday weekend.

About 1.1 million homes and businesses on the East Coast were still without electricity after Irene knocked out power to some 7 million customers on its rampage last Saturday and Sunday.

Connecticut has been the slowest of all the states affected by Irene to restore power to customers. Police were deployed there to protect crews from angry residents, NBC's Anne Thompson reported from Ridgefield, Conn.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Connecticut and Pennsylvania each had more than 700,000 households and businesses without power, representing 43.5 percent and 18 percent of all customers respectively, according to the Department of Energy.

While Pennsylvania had restored power to all but 39,458 customers, or 1 percent of households, more than 250,000 were still without power in Connecticut, or 16 percent of all households and businesses.

Connecticut Light & Power, the largest electricity provider in the state, said on its website it was bringing in additional workers to help restore power, with the number of line and tree crews working in the state expected to increase to 1,200 by Friday from 900 on Wednesday.

"We've made good progress today working with the state and towns and realize there's still a lot of work to be done," CL&P President Jeff Butler said a statement. "We understand how difficult the loss of power is on all our customers and appreciate their patience."

The priority would be restoring power to schools, waste water treatment plants, communication facilities and other town priorities, Butler said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was running low on disaster relief funds, forcing it to suspend spending on long-term projects. FEMA officials said they would keep processing claims from states and individuals seeking reimbursement for uninsured disaster damage.

But with $800 million left in the fund and potentially billions of dollars in damage claims to come in, the U.S. Congress at some point will have to appropriate more money at a time of epic budget battles over taxation and federal spending.

"We expect that to be resolved as we get additional funding and as we go into our next fiscal year," FEMA chief Craig Fugate told reporters in New York.

"My sense has been America always comes to America's needs and disasters," he said.

At least $7.2 billion in estimated damage
Repair estimates indicated that the storm would almost certainly rank among the nation's costliest natural disasters, despite packing a lighter punch than initially feared.

Even as rivers finally stopped rising in Vermont, New Jersey, and Connecticut, many communities and farm areas remained flooded, and officials said complete damage estimates were nowhere in sight.

An estimate released immediately after Irene by the Kinetic Analysis Corp., a Maryland-based consulting firm that uses computer models to estimate storm losses, put the damage at $7.2 billion in eight states and Washington, D.C. Eqecat, a catastrophe modeling company, estimated the economic losses at more than $10 billion.

That would eclipse damage from Hurricane Bob, which caused $1 billion in damage in New England in 1991 or the equivalent of about $1.7 billion today, and Hurricane Gloria, which swept through the region in 1985 and left $900 million in damage, the equivalent of $1.9 billion today, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Dozens dead
Irene has led to the deaths of at least 46 people in 13 states. If that death toll stands, it would be comparable to 1999's Hurricane Floyd, which also struck North Carolina and charged up the East Coast into New England, causing most of its 57 deaths by inland drowning. At the time, it was the deadliest U.S. hurricane in nearly 40 years but was later dwarfed by the 1,800 deaths caused by Katrina in 2005.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo estimated the damage to his state alone at $1 billion during a visit to Prattsville, a Catskills community where 600 homes were damaged by heavy rains and floods that also shredded roads and washed out bridges.

"Upstate New York paid a terrible, terrible price for this storm," Cuomo said.

In North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore along the Outer Banks on Saturday before heading for New York and New England, Gov. Beverly Perdue said the hurricane destroyed more than 1,100 homes and caused at least $70 million in damage.

Agricultural losses were still being tallied but one county alone, Martin, was reporting more than $37 million in crop damage, Perdue said in a statement.

Downstream from Vermont's devastating floods, the Connecticut River hit levels not seen in 24 years, but Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano said the situation was not much worse than annual spring floods caused by snowmelt.

In Simsbury, Conn., several farm fields were flooded along the Farmington River. Pumpkins and other produce could be seen floating away.

"Farmers lost a good amount of crops," said First Selectwoman Mary Glassman.

After floods in 1955, New England states installed flood-control dams and basins that helped prevent a catastrophe along the lower Connecticut River, said Denise Ruzicka, director of inland water resources for Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The after-effects of Irene could also affect some Labor Day weekend plans.

In North Carolina, visitors are still barred from Hatteras Island and its ferry-dependent neighbor Ocracoke Island, the Herald reported. Both islands are popular tourist destinations.