Hurricane Irene dissipated over the weekend as it moved up the East Coast, and in its wake residents have begun a return to normality as flood,rain and wind damage is assessed and repairs begun. As the Washington Post’s Nikita Stewart, Theresa Vargas and Michael Ruane reported:
The Washington area began to return to normal Monday after a lashing by the former hurricane Irene, but hundreds of thousands of residents remained without power, and several local school systems were closed
At least 24 deaths were reported as a result of the storm that soaked and battered the East Coast over the weekend, including a Maryland woman who was killed when a chimney toppled and a Virginia girl killed in a car crash.
Officials tallying the destruction left by the storm, which pummeled the coast from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod, said flooding was also devastating in Vermont, with hundreds of roads under water and some of the state’s trademark covered bridges destroyed.
Even as repairs began in the Washington area on a sunny, breezy Sunday, the height of hurricane season saw another storm spawned in the Atlantic Ocean — headed away from land — and a third system under observation off the west coast of Africa.
Irene, although downgraded to a tropical storm and far less potent than originally imagined, cut electricity to 1.2 million Dominion power customers in Virginia and North Carolina, resulting in the biggest repair effort since Hurricane Isabel in 2003, the utility said.
More than 6,000 line workers and support personnel, some from Alabama, Indiana and Michigan, were working to restore power ahead of Labor Day weekend.
Questions are already being asked of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) whose limited budget will be stretched as it attempts to head rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Irene while also balancing the costs of the recovery efforts elsewhere across the country. As Federal Eye blogger Ed O’Keefe explained
With less than $1 billion currently available for federal disaster assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is temporarily suspending payments to rebuild roads, schools and other structures destroyed during spring tornadoes in Joplin, Mo. and southern states in order to pay for damage caused by Hurricane Irene.
FEMA will still pay people eligible for individual storm assistance and some states recouping emergency response costs from previous disasters. But the agency said it will place restrictions on paying for older longer-term public rebuilding and mitigation projects in order to ensure the solvency of the federal disaster relief fund, which pays for emergency management costs and public rebuilding projects.
The decision affects the spring tornadoes and disasters dating back several years and “prioritizes the immediate, urgent needs of survivors and states when preparing for or responding to a disaster,” said FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen.
The federal government similarly suspended some disaster payments in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2010, according to FEMA.
Overnight, President Obama signed federal emergency declarations for the District of Columbia and Delaware, opening a stream of funding to pay for emergency response efforts there. Ten states, the District and Puerto Rico have applied for federal emergency assistance since last week.
Also late Saturday, Obama declared a major disaster in Puerto Rico, a move that makes money available to individuals affected by Irene’s destruction.
The White House is expected to declare similar disasters in other states as soon as today, further sapping money from the relief fund, which currently has about $900 million, below the $1 billion officials prefer to keep on hand.
New York City, which was expected to take a lashing from Irene, planned to re-open large parts of its subway system in time for Monday morning commuters after floodwaters did not rise as high as was feared earlier in the week. As AP reported:
The New York City subway system will be up and running for the start of the work week Monday morning, transit officials said, but some sections of the country’s largest transit system will remain idle while inspectors check for any damage from Tropical Storm Irene.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority shut down all subways, buses and commuter trains Saturday in preparation for the storm. It was the first time a natural disaster ever closed the system down. On any given week day, New York City’s subways cart about 5 million people, and commuters were left wondering how they would get to work.
Elsewhere in the city, damage was less than had been feared. Just hours after an all-night, window-rattling drenching from the storm, people were back on the streets, jogging, milling around Times Square, walking dogs and surveying the damage, which consisted mostly of downed trees, power outages and neighborhood flooding.
City officials worried saltwater would swamp lower Manhattan and damage the underground power lines that serve Wall Street, crippling the nation’s financial system. But that didn’t happen. The main stock exchanges were set to open as scheduled Monday.
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