KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. >> From North Carolina to New Jersey, Hurricane Irene’s winds and storm surge fell short of the doomsday predictions. But the danger is far from over: With rivers still rising, severe flooding is feared across much of the East Coast over the next few days.
More than 4.5 million homes and businesses along the coast lost power, and at least 15 deaths were blamed on the storm.
With roads impassable because of high water and fallen trees, it could be days before the full extent of the damage is known. But as day broke Sunday, many places reported only light damage consisting of little more than downed trees and power lines.
“I think it’s a little strong to say we dodged a bullet. However, it certainly could have turned out worse for the Hampton Roads area” in Virginia, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Montefusco.
At the same time, officials warned of the possibility of extreme flooding as runoff from the storm makes its way into creeks and rivers.
Irene brought six inches to a foot of rain to many places along the East Coast. In one eastern North Carolina neighborhood, two-dozen homes were destroyed by flooding and officials feared more damage could be uncovered there.
Some areas of the Northeast had soggy ground even before the storm because of an extremely rainy August.
“We are going to look at a record flooding situation here, both at the shore and inland,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The storm was still pummeling the New York City area and New England on Sunday morning, dropping below hurricane strength but still dangerous with 65 mph winds and heavy downpours.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had initially warned that Irene could be a “catastrophic” monster with record storm surges of up to 8 feet.
But in Virginia Beach, the city posted on Twitter late Saturday that initial reports were promising, with the resort area suffering minimal damage. And in Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan reported: “Scattered power outages. No reports of major damage!”
In Lusby, Md., Constellation Energy Nuclear Group said one of two nuclear reactors at Calvert Cliffs went off-line automatically because of Irene’s winds. Constellation said the plant was safe.
Floodwaters were rising across New Jersey, and more than 2,000 National Guardsmen were helping with search and rescue work as officials assessed the damage. The Raritan River, which caused disastrous flooding after it was swelled by rain from Hurricane Floyd 12 years ago, was not expected to crest until Sunday evening.
Still, with skies clearing Sunday morning, some of those living on the coast were cautiously optimistic.
After spending the night hunkered down in his Pleasantville, N.J., home overnight without electricity, Harry Webber went outside in a fruitless search for place to buy a cup of coffee.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of my town is still in one piece,” he said.
Late last week, Irene was a fearsome Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of around 115 mph as it barreled across open water toward the East Coast. Forecasters predicted it could grow to a scarier Category 4 before blowing ashore.
By Friday, though, the storm began losing steam. It came ashore the next day in North Carolina a mere Category 1 with winds of about 85 mph, and had weakened into a tropical storm by the time its eye hit New York City on Sunday.
While the National Hurricane Center accurately predicted Irene’s track, the agency’s director acknowledged that forecasting the strength of the winds days in advance can be difficult because of the myriad factors involved.
“We’re not completely sure how the interplay of various features is causing the strength of a storm to change,” said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center.
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said that Irene inflicted significant damage along her state’s coast, but that the full extent was unclear because some areas were unreachable because of high water or downed power lines.
Perdue planned an aerial tour Sunday of the hardest-hit counties after TV coverage showed downed trees, toppled utility poles and power lines and mangled awnings.
In North Carolina’s Craven County, officials said that as many as 25 homes were destroyed by swells from the Neuse River in a neighborhood that was hit hard by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The fire department rescued people from a handful of houses on Saturday.
Officials in North Carolina’s Dare County said they were advised there was extensive flooding that needed to be checked out. About 2,500 people on Hatteras Island have been cut off by damaged roads, and there are plans to bring them supplies by ferry. It’s not clear yet how bad damage was on the island.
Elsewhere, authorities suggested Irene didn’t create the kind of havoc that had been anticipated.
“We were prepared for a lot worse, but we got lucky on this one,” said Bruce Shell, New Hanover County, N.C., manager.
He said many of the 70,000 homes that lost power Saturday were back online in the evening and a wastewater spill at Wrightsville Beach appeared to be minor.
Pinehurst dentist Harwell Palmer said his home in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., lost a few pieces of siding and there was some street flooding, but a pier that took a pounding from the waves was still standing. The storm did gobble up some of the sand.
“The main concern we will have going forward is the loss of beach,” he said.
The question still facing the region was whether Irene’s effects over the next few days would match the mess left behind by such storms as Floyd and Isabel.
In 1999, Floyd dropped at least 15 inches of rain on eastern North Carolina. The flooding was the most damaging in the state’s history, topping $3 billion in North Carolina. Four years later, Isabel brought hurricane conditions to eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia, causing about $1 billion in damage.
In the resort town of Ocean City, Md., damage appeared minimal. A few small trees along a major road had been uprooted. Scattered piles of sand about two feet high covered areas of the boardwalk. The end of a wooden pier was sagging and a wooden railing was askew.
At the Quietstorm surf shop on the boardwalk, part of a wall where the shop’s name is advertised had been torn off, exposing wiring and scattering insulation. Locals, though, said they had seen worse during ordinary storms.
“I think we dodged a bullet,” said LeAnn Price.
MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. >> Hurricane Irene opened its assault on the Eastern Seaboard by lashing the North Carolina coast with wind as strong as 115 mph and pounding shoreline homes with waves. Farther north, authorities readied a massive shutdown of trains and airports, with 2 million people ordered out of the way.
The center of the storm passed over North Carolina’s Outer Banks for its official landfall just after 7:30 a.m. EDT (1:30 a.m. Hawaii time). The hurricane’s vast reach traced the East Coast from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to just below Cape Cod. Tropical storm conditions battered Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, with the worst to come.
Irene weakened slightly, with sustained winds down to 85 mph from about 100 a day earlier, making it a Category 1, the least threatening on the scale. The National Hurricane Center reported gusts of 115 mph and storm-surge waves as high as 7 feet.
The first death from the storm was reported in Nash County, N.C., outside Raleigh, where emergency officials said a man was crushed by a large limb that blew off a tree.
Hurricane-force winds arrived near Jacksonville, N.C., at first light, and wind-whipped rain lashed the resort town of Nags Head. Tall waves covered the beach, and the surf pushed as high as the backs of some of the houses and hotels fronting the strand.
“There’s nothing you can do now but wait. You can hear the wind and it’s scary,” said Leon Reasor, who rode out the storm in the Outer Banks town of Buxton. “Things are banging against the house. I hope it doesn’t get worse, but I know it will. I just hate hurricanes.”
At least two piers on the Outer Banks were wiped out, the roof of a car dealership was ripped away, and a hospital in Morehead City that was running on generators. In all, more than 400,000 people were without power on the East Coast.
Susan Kinchen, who showed up at a shelter at a North Carolina high school with her daughter and 5-month-old granddaughter, said she felt unsafe in their trailer. Kinchen, from Louisiana, said she was reminded of how Hurricane Katrina peeled the roof of her trailer there almost exactly six years ago, on Aug. 29, 2005.
“I’m not taking any chances,” she said.
In the Northeast, unaccustomed to tropical weather of any strength, authorities made plans to bring the basic structures of travel grinding to a halt. The New York City subway, the largest in the United States, was making its last runs at noon, and all five area airports were accepting only a few final hours’ worth of flights.
The New York transit system carries 5 million people on weekdays, fewer on weekends, and has never been shut for weather. Transit systems in New Jersey and Philadelphia also announced plans to shut down. Washington declared a state of emergency, days after it had evacuated for an earthquake.
New York City ordered 300,000 people to leave low-lying areas, including the Battery Park City neighborhood at the southern tip of Manhattan, the beachfront Rockaways in Queens and Coney Island in Brooklyn. But it was not clear how many people would get out, or how they would do it.
“How can I get out of Coney Island?” said Abe Feinstein, 82, who has lived for half a century on the eighth floor of a building overlooking the boardwalk. “What am I going to do? Run with this walker?”
Authorities in New York said they would not arrest people who chose to stay, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned on Friday: “If you don’t follow this, people may die.”
Streets and subway cars were much emptier than on a typical Saturday morning. On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around subway grates nearest the East River, which is expected to surge as the worst hits New York.
The city’s largest power company said it could cut power to some neighborhoods if the storm causes serious flooding. Salt water can damage power lines, and cutting power would speed repairs.
In all, evacuation orders covered about 2.3 million people, including 1 million in New Jersey, 315,000 in Maryland, 300,000 in North Carolina, 200,000 in Virginia and 100,000 in Delaware. Authorities and experts said it was probably the most people ever threatened by a single storm in the United States.
Airlines said 8,300 flights were canceled, including 3,000 on Saturday. Greyhound suspended bus service between Richmond, Va., and Boston. Amtrak canceled trains in the Northeast for Sunday.
Forecasters said the core of Irene would roll up the mid-Atlantic coast Saturday night and over southern New England on Sunday. Late Saturday morning, Irene was centered about 120 miles south of Norfolk, Va. It was moving north-northeast at 15 mph. Maximum sustained winds remained around 85 mph.
North of the Outer Banks, the storm pounded the Hampton Roads region of southeast Virginia, a jagged network of inlets and rivers that floods easily. Emergency officials there were less worried about the wind and more about storm surge, the high waves that accompany a hurricane. Gas stations there were low on fuel, and grocery stores scrambled to keep water and bread on the shelves.
In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell ordered an evacuation of coastal areas on the peninsula that the state shares with Maryland and Virginia. In Atlantic City, N.J., all 11 casinos announced they would shut down for only the third time since gambling became legal there 33 years ago.
In Baltimore’s Fells Point, one of the city’s oldest waterfront neighborhoods, people filled sandbags and placed them at building entrances. A few miles away at the Port of Baltimore, vehicles and cranes continued to unload huge cargo ships that were rushing to offload and get away from the storm.
A steady rain fell on the boardwalk at Ocean City, Md., where a small amusement park was shut down and darkened — including a ride called the Hurricane. Businesses were boarded up, many painted with messages like “Irene don’t be mean!”
Charlie Koetzle, 55, who has lived in Ocean City for a decade, came to the boardwalk in swim trunks and flip-flops to look at the sea. While his neighbors and most everyone else had evacuated, Koetzle said he told authorities he wasn’t leaving. To ride out the storm, he had stocked up with soda, roast beef, peanut butter, tuna, nine packs of cigarettes and a detective novel.
Of the storm, he said: “I always wanted to see one.”
Gasoline prices declined in Honolulu this week, with the average price statewide dropping 6 cents from last week to $4.09 for a gallon of regular unleaded, according to AAA Hawaii’s Weekend Gas Watch.
Hawaii gas prices remain the highest in the nation, with Alaska coming in second at $3.86 per gallon, followed by Connecticut at $3.90 per gallon, AAA Hawaii Regional Manager Diane Peterson said in a news release.
Honolulu’s average price for a gallon of unleaded declined to $3.98 a gallon, which was the same price as a month ago, but 62 cents higher than this time last year, AAA Hawaii said.
The average price in Hilo this week was $4.12 a gallon, 3 cents less than last week, but 6 cents more than a month ago and 52 cents more than a year ago, AAA Hawaii said.
Maui’s average gas price dropped 2 cents from last week to $4.36 a gallon this week in Wailuku, which was 3 cents less than last month and 52 cents more than a year ago, the organization said.
WAILUKU, Maui, Hawai`i – The Mayor’s Office is proud to announce the scholarship winners of this year’s Committee on the Status of Women’s International Woman’s Leadership Conference.
Out of nine applicants, four young women were selected. They include:
– Kyra Villa, Maui High School
– Michelle Rabara, St. Anthony High School
– Cheyenne Pico, Hana High School
– Donna Paz, Maui High School
Those selected were based upon financial need and a personal statement regarding why they would like to attend the conference. The scholarship pays for airfare, transportation, registration fees and lunch in Honolulu. This year’s conference will be held at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel and Resort on September 20, 2011.
Founded by former Governor Linda Lingle, the IWLC gathers successful female leaders from around the world and enables them to share their inspirational stories with conference delegates. Nearly 1,000 of Hawai`i’s women from the fields of business, marketing, media, health care, government, international relations, and community service gather annually seeking inspiration from women leaders worldwide.
Hundreds of thousands of airline passengers will be grounded this weekend as Hurricane Irene sweeps up the East Coast, past some of the nation’s busiest airports.
JetBlue Airways said Friday it was scrubbing about 880 flights between Saturday and Monday, most of them to and from hub airports in New York and Boston.
American Airlines canceled 32 flights on Friday, mostly in North Carolina and Virginia, and expected to halt flights in and out of Washington-area airports — about 150 flights a day — around noon Saturday. Southwest Airlines planned to stop flights to and from Norfolk, Va., beginning Saturday morning.
Irene is expected to make landfall around North Carolina on Saturday, move up the coast to New York on Sunday and then weaken as it plods through New England. It could strike major airports from Washington to Boston.
“You’re affecting all the major airports on the northeastern seaboard,” said David Swierenga, a former chief economist at the Air Transport Association trade group who now runs consultant AeroEcon in Round Rock, Texas. “The number of flights that they have at those airports per day is very high. I expect this will be a major disruption.”
The JetBlue cancellations are likely just the tip of the iceberg. Other airlines said Friday they were waiting to be more certain about Irene’s path before announcing more cancelations.
Airlines waived rebooking fees for customers who wanted to delay their flights to more than two dozen cities on the East Coast. Details varied by airline, with some giving travelers more time to make their rescheduled flight. Travelers whose flights were canceled would be eligible for refunds.
George Hobica, founder of the travel website airfarewatchdog.com, said travelers who bought nonrefundable tickets should wait until the airline cancels the flight rather than taking the airlines’ offer to reschedule by a few days.
The problem with rebooking on the airlines’ terms, Hobica said, is that you’re unlikely to want to take the same trip a few days later.
Projected costs from air-traffic interruptions are among those used by Kinetic Analysis Corp. in estimating $20 billion in overall economic losses from Irene, including missed work time, power failures and shipping disruptions. The firm forecast $13.9 billion in insured losses.
Delta and JetBlue Airways Corp. have hubs at New York’s Kennedy airport, and United’s Continental Airlines flies from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty. Together with New York’s LaGuardia, the three airports form the busiest U.S. aviation market.
Sandwiching that airspace is Philadelphia, where US Airways Group Inc. has a hub and Southwest Airlines Co. is the second- biggest operator; Washington, home to United’s hub at Dulles airport and a US Airways base at Ronald Reagan National; and Boston, where JetBlue is the largest tenant.
Delays in the area can ripple across the entire U.S. air- traffic control system.
Irene may also affect trans-Atlantic routes as well. American and joint-venture partner British Airways began hourly London departures from Kennedy each evening this year.
FedEx Corp., operator of the world’s largest cargo airline, and United Parcel Service Inc., the biggest package-delivery company, were monitoring their East Coast air and ground operations to decide on storm preparations, spokesmen said yesterday.
The Northeast’s concentration of airport hubs makes Irene a bigger threat for cancellations than a storm striking the southeast U.S. or states adjoining the Gulf of Mexico, where hurricanes are common.
Those regions have only two hubs near the coast, Continental’s in Houston and American’s in Miami. New Orleans, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was only the 43rd-busiest U.S. airport by departing passengers in the year ended in May, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Winds and rain may not be airlines’ only challenge from Irene. Power failures, common in hurricanes, also may keep airline employees from getting to airports to restart service once the worst of the storm passes, said Mann, the consultant.
Planes also are flying with record numbers of full seats, especially at the end of the U.S. summer vacation season, making it difficult to find new seats for passengers on grounded flights after the storm moves through.
“We’re at a peak of a peak month, right before the Labor Day holiday, which will make it very difficult to reaccommodate customers on canceled flights,” Mann said.
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