Swollen US rivers begin to fall
Swollen rivers have begun falling in much of America's north-east, allowing relief crews to reach the last of the tiny Vermont towns cut off from help by Hurricane Irene's fast-moving floodwaters.
The receding water eased the flooding that had paralysed parts of the region and revealed more damage to homes, farms and businesses across the flood-scarred landscape. 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.
Of the 11 towns that had been severed from the outside world, the final one to be reached by rescuers was tiny Wardsboro, a village of 850 in the Green Mountains. The community is little more than a post office and some houses standing along Route 100, a highway popular with tourists in the autumn.
The US National Guard continued to ferry supplies to mountain towns that had no electricity, no telephone service and limited transportation in or out. Helicopters arrived with food, blankets, tarps and drinking water.
Floodwaters also ravaged parts of New Jersey and Connecticut. Two of the three nuclear reactors in a southern New Jersey county have powered partway down because debris from Hurricane Irene is blocking cooling water intakes.
"Sunday morning the water was only up to here," said Wallington, New Jersey, resident Kevin O'Reilly, gesturing to where his front lawn used to meet the sidewalk. "Sunday afternoon, the waves were bouncing off the house, and that's when it blew out the basement windows."
Irene's death toll stands at 53, including 46 people killed in 13 US states and Puerto Rico. The US toll is comparable to 1999's Hurricane Floyd, which killed 56 Americans when it struck North Carolina and charged up the East Coast into New England.
An estimate released immediately after Irene by the Kinetic Analysis, a consulting firm that uses computer models to project storm losses, put the damage at 7.2 billion dollars (£4.4bn) in eight states and Washington DC.
Denise Ruzicka, director of inland water resources for Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said flood control dams and basins that New England states installed after 1955 floods helped prevent a catastrophe in the lower Connecticut River basin. She said all the rivers in the state will be receding by the end of the day.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York, freeing up federal recovery funds for people in eight counties. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs. Irene destroyed 500 to 600 homes and thousands of acres of farmland in upstate New York.