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America counts the cost of Hurricane Irene as flooding hits north east

August 29, 2011


At least 29 people in eight states have now been killed, many through drowning, as estimates of the damage caused to property alone reached $13 billion (£8 billion).

More than 500,000 homes and businesses across Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire were left without electricity, as rivers around the north-east burst their banks.

Another 285,000 homes and firms in eastern Canada lost power after being struck by Irene as it left the US, bringing the total dealing with blackouts to more than 5.5 million people.

“The impacts of this storm will be felt for some time,” President Barack Obama told Americans late on Sunday. “And the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer”.

Millions of commuters in New York City faced delays and packed trains upon their return to work on Monday morning, as thousands of evacuated residents continued to return to their homes.

It was their upstate neighbours, however, who bore the brunt. Several small towns throughout the Catskill Mountains were totally submerged by water after local rivers and streams flooded.

Already waterlogged following the wettest August on record, the outer suburbs could not cope with the extra foot of rain dumped on them by Irene as it hurtled north on Sunday night.

Entire houses in the low-lying areas of the tiny town of Windham were plunged underwater. Michael Scarey, the fire chief, told local reporters the town, home to about 1,600 people, had been “wiped out”.

Further north, Vermont battled what was believed to be its worst flooding in 84 years. At least one person, a 21-year-old woman, was killed and more than 50,000 people were left without power.

Peter Shumlin, the state’s governor, said the damage caused by seven inches of rain was a “full-blown catastrophe” and added: “We’re going to be digging out for a long time.”

“We prepared for the worst and we got the worst in central and southern Vermont,” Mr Shumlin said yesterday. “We have extraordinary infrastructure damage.”

Montpelier, the state capital, was deluged while Battleboro, a 12,000-resident town beside the Connecticut River, was also particularly badly hit.

Every road in the state, apart from two major motorways, was closed at some point yesterday due to water cover.

It was feared Montpelier may have to be flooded for a second time yesterday, as engineers said water needed to be released from a dam upstream on the swollen Winooski River.

Meanwhile dramatic video footage emerged showing a covered bridge over the Williams River, which was built in 1870, being swept away by rushing water, then disappearing seconds later.

Experts were attempting to analyse the extent of damage caused to businesses, homes and infrastructure along the eastern seaboard. The Kinetic Analysis Corporation put it at $13 billion (£8 billion).

Others, however, said the final total – incorporating lost business, including the 11,000 flights cancelled by airlines – could be double that, or even more.

Michele Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman who is running for her party’s presidential nomination, raised eyebrows on the campaign trail by suggesting Irene had been a holy warning.

“Washington, DC, you’d think by now they’d get the message,” she told a crowd in Florida. “An earthquake, a hurricane. Are you listening? The American people have done everything they can, and now it’s time for an act of God and we’re getting it”. A spokesman later said the comments were meant “in jest”.

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