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Irene Has Passed, But Damage Concerns Remain


LAURA SULLIVAN, host: The worst fears were never realized, but at least 18 people died and millions lost power. Floodwaters inundated coastal areas in New Jersey and Philadelphia where seven buildings collapsed. One woman in Salem, New Jersey, called police to help her out of her flooded car. She was found dead hours later in her car.

For business owners like Todd Clissold in North Carolina, recovery comes with a price; for him, up to $70,000.

TODD CLISSOLD: You know, I've got people coming out to inspect refrigeration, and a lot of my units were submerged. A lot of fixtures in my restaurant are wooden, like booths and bar, and everything else, and that stuff is swollen and buckled and popped. It's almost one of those things it's hard to even get started because you don't know where to start first.

SULLIVAN: We'll have one more storm story, the latest from New York City, plus NPR's Joe Palca on why Irene wasn't worse. First, the latest from NPR's Jennifer Ludden.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Despite the massive scale of this storm, the biggest emotion up and down the Eastern Seaboard may be relief. Thea Strong(ph) returned to Great South Bay, Long Island, directly in Irene's path. She was shaken to see her street knee-deep in water and felt...

THEA STRONG: Nervous, worried, happy at the same time, because so far, everything looks okay, other than the trees down.

LUDDEN: Several trees down, but amazingly, none had landed on the house.

STRONG: I can't believe how lucky that is, you know? Tree fell on the car in the front there, and the car has - I don't think it has a dent.

LUDDEN: Of course, some houses and cars did get crushed under trees or pounded with seven and eight-foot storm surges. In Virginia Beach, Virginia, officials say a micro tornado ripped into five houses, but the area had been evacuated. This morning, from the town's emergency command center, spokeswoman Mary Hancock said things were under control.

MARY HANCOCK: Our storm water pump worked really well, and the rain was not as heavy as we had anticipated, so there are no problems in this area.

LUDDEN: She said evacuated residents were being allowed home, and even the town's beaches were getting back to business.

HANCOCK: Our lifeguards are coming back to all of our beaches by noon today.

LUDDEN: So you mean people can swim this afternoon?

HANCOCK: Absolutely. It's beautiful out there. We're having a lovely day today.

LUDDEN: Federal officials were not so sanguine. Yes, they were happy Irene did not remain a Category 3 hurricane. It hit the U.S. mainland as a Category 1, and by midday Sunday had been downgraded to a tropical storm. But Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano noted Irene was still deadly.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO: This was a big storm. It covered a huge - and is covering - a huge geographic area. Lots of impacts, not just from the storm itself but from the aftereffects of the storm.

LUDDEN: A major aftereffect: flooding. Irene dumped a foot or more of rain in some places. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told CNN his state already had the wettest August on record before the storm.

Governor CHRIS CHRISTIE: We have saturated ground. We have swelled rivers. And with more flooding to happen on Monday and Tuesday, as these rivers crest, that's my big concern now, is the inland flooding mostly and resolving the coastal flooding.

LUDDEN: Christie says much of New Jersey remains under a flash flood watch. His message?

CHRISTIE: Do not leave your homes. People want to get out there right now, and it's still not safe for you to go out there.

LUDDEN: Officials say record flooding is also possible in coming days in New Hampshire and Vermont. And as the storm works its way through New England, more homes and businesses will be left without power, something that could take days to restore. Still, the recovery will not be as massive as many local officials anticipated, given the dire predictions of recent days.

Mary Hancock in Virginia Beach admits a lot of the town's preparations were not needed in the end. But that's okay, she says. We're safe and sound. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.