|A view of a flooded residential neighborhood on Fayette Street in Wayne, New Jersey [Reuters]|
Residents of several states in the northeastern United States look set to spend the national Labour Day holiday weekend mired in mud and stuck in the dark nearly a week after Hurricane Irene swept through the region.
About one million homes and businesses on the east coast were still without electricity on Friday, following outages for almost 10 million customers triggered by Irene’s rampage last weekend.
Patience is wearing thin among those still waiting for power and internet connectivity, some of whom have been dragging soggy furniture to the curb, throwing out spoiled food and taking cold showers.
The upcoming long weekend, normally a celebration of the end of summer, will be a wet mess for hundreds of thousands of homeowners who suffered damage as their cities and towns were submerged under floodwaters in states such as New York, New Jersey and Vermont.
Hundreds of people were rescued in Paterson, New Jersey, one of several New York City suburbs that were under water even as the city itself went relatively unscathed some 30km away.
President Obama is scheduled to visit the battered town on a tour of areas worst hit by the storm.
Upstate New York saw rural mountain resorts flooded, ruining business for the holiday weekend.
Cath Turney reports on flood damge in New Jersey
In Vermont, relief workers airlifted food and water to towns cut off by storm-damaged highways.
‘Smells like a sewer’
“Everything smells like a sewer because the water got up so high. It stinks so bad,” Melody Hawkins, 55, said as she sat on the stoop of her home in Ludlow, one of more than a dozen towns in Vermont to face severe flooding.
“The thing that gets me is the dust. Look at the cars, they’re all covered, and people still go barrelling down the street, kicking it up,” Hawkins said.
Lu Ann Wetherby, 67, said she had spent the past few days trying to clean the mud out of her basement.
“The mud. There’s so much mud,” Wetherby said. “We lost everything in the basement, all our Christmas decorations. Some of them went back 60 years.”
The weather was clear on Thursday, sparing the recovery efforts from more rain after an exceedingly wet summer.
The clean-up operation has been conducted amid concerns that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could be forces to suspend spending on longterm projects as it runs low on disaster relief funds.
But Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, told reporters in New York that he was confident politicians would put aside budgetary concerns to meet the costs of potentially billions of dollars in damage claims still being processed.
“We expect that to be resolved as we get additional funding and as we go into our next fiscal year,” said Fugate. “My sense has been America always comes to America’s needs and disasters.”
Connecticut badly hit
Connecticut has been the slowest of all the states affected by Hurricane Irene to restore power to customers.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Connecticut and Pennsylvania each had more than 700,000 households and businesses without power, representing 43.5 per cent and 18 per cent of all customers respectively, according to the department of energy.
While Pennsylvania had restored power to all but 39,458 customers, or one per cent of households, more than 250,000 were still without power in Connecticut, or 16 per cent of all households and businesses.
Connecticut Light & Power, the largest electricity provider in the state, said on its website it was bringing in additional workers to help restore power, with the number of line and tree crews working in the state expected to increase to 1,200 by Friday from 900 on Wednesday.
The industry has defended its efforts to restore power, noting it warned the public a storm like Irene was bound to cause prolonged outages and pointing out that flooding and toppled trees caused severe damage to utility poles, substations and other equipment.
“We’ve made good progress today working with the state and towns and realize there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Jeff Butler, the CL&P president, said a statement. “We understand how difficult the loss of power is on all our customers and appreciate their patience.”
The priority would be restoring power to schools, waste water treatment plants, communication facilities and other town priorities, Butler said.