Eastern US Still Recovering from Irene

Posted August 31st, 2011 at 5:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Residents in the eastern United States are still recovering from Irene — a hurricane that weakened into a tropical storm — with communities cut off by flooding and some schools closed because of lost power.

Emergency workers have begun airlifting food and water to thousands of residents stranded in the northeastern state of Vermont, after floodwaters washed over roads and bridges, isolating a number of communities in the state's worst floods in nearly a century.

In the state of New Jersey, emergency workers rescued hundreds of people from flooded homes. Officials there also said they had reduced power output at two nuclear reactors, because debris dislodged by the storm was clogging the cooling water intakes.

Irene has so far been blamed for at least 43 deaths in the continental U.S. and five deaths in the Caribbean. President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed disaster declarations for the states of North Carolina and New York. He is also scheduled to visit New Jersey on Sunday to view some of the damage from the hurricane.

Top Obama administration officials visited impacted areas Wednesday.

Irene first made landfall on Saturday in the southeastern state of North Carolina, before moving up the East Coast and weakening into a tropical storm. It dumped heavy rain over inland areas of Vermont, New Jersey and New York state, causing streams and rivers to burst their banks. Millions of people throughout the region were left without power.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Federal Emergency Management Agency head Craig Fugate, and FEMA deputy head Rich Serino were in New York and New Jersey Wednesday to survey the damage and discuss federal response efforts.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Katia — the next significant Atlantic storm of the season — could become a hurricane on Wednesday. Forecasters believe the weather system, located in the Atlantic Ocean, will become a Category One hurricane on a five-point scale as it moves northwest. Forecasters say it is too early to predict a path for the storm.

The beginning of September is normally the peak of the hurricane season. Experts predict an active 2011 hurricane season with eight to 10 hurricanes possible, which would be slightly more than normal.