UPDATE Wednesday: Hurricane Irene may have fallen short of some predictions, but the historic flooding that followed in her wake may still make the storm one of the costliest natural disasters in the nation's history.
The New York Times reports that industry estimates put the cost of the storm between $7 billion and $10 billion, a total that would earn it a spot in the top 10 most expensive U.S. catastrophes on record. "Beyond deadly flooding that caused havoc in upstate New York and Vermont, the hurricane flooded cotton and tobacco crops in North Carolina, temporarily halted shellfish harvesting in Chesapeake Bay, sapped power and kept commuters from their jobs in the New York metropolitan area and pushed tourists off Atlantic beaches in the peak of summer," the paper reports.
Meanwhile, in Vermont, four-wheel drive vehicles carrying supplies have been able to reach 12 of the 13 towns cut off by the flooding.
The death toll continued to inch up Tuesday and now stands at 42, according the the Associated Press.
UPDATE Tuesday at 10:15 a.m.: Irene’s death toll now stands at 40, with the latest confirmed casualties including an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor who drowned in a Catskill cottage during the storm.
New York police say that Rozalia Stern-Gluck of Brooklyn had been vacationing with family and friends in Fleischmanns, N.Y. , where she was trapped in her cottage when a nearby creek overflowed on Sunday. More than 6 feet of water filled the woman’s cottage, officials said.
The New York Daily News reports that Stern-Gluck originally hailed from Russia and that she was a Holocaust survivor. “She survived Hitler, but she couldn’t survive Irene,” Isaac Abraham, a Brooklyn Hasidic community leader, told the paper.
Meanwhile, flooding continues to wreak havoc in upstate New York and in Vermont, where nearly a dozen small towns remained cut off Tuesday due to impassable roads and bridges, the New York Times reports.
"It's just devastating," Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday. "Whole communities under water, businesses, homes, obviously roads and bridges, rail transportation infrastructure," he said. "We're tough folks up here but Irene ... really hit us hard."
UPDATE Monday 3:49 p.m.: Flooding continues to be a problem in Vermont, where rushing waters have swept away at least a dozen bridges and flooding is at its worst since the 1920s.
President Obama signed an emergency declaration for the state this morning, and officials say that the flooding has already claimed two lives and left a third person missing, ABC News reports.
The combined death toll for Hurricane Irene continued to climb Monday afternoon, with at least 35 people confirmed dead, the Associated Press reports. New Jersey, New York and North Carolina have been hit the worst, with six casualties confirmed in each state.
UPDATE Monday 9:29 a.m.: What's left of Hurricane Irene crossed into Canada overnight, but that doesn't mean the East Coast is in the free and clear.
In addition to the extensive cleanup that will need to take place up and down the Atlantic Coast, a number of states are also facing the possibility of worsening flooding, particularly in Vermont, where Gov. Peter Shumlin said the state has "a full-blown flooding catastrophe on our hands."
According to the Weather Channel, many rivers won't crest until later Monday, meaning things could get worse before they get better for some areas of the country.
Meanwhile, the confirmed death toll from Irene has reached 25, the Associated Press reports. The estimates of the economic damage done by the storm also continues to climb: ABC News reports that the storm did between $7 billion and $13 billion in damage.
UPDATE Sunday 6:20 p.m.: President Obama warned Sunday evening that "this is not over."
Speaking from the White House, the president said that while the worst appears to have passed, Hurricane Irene is still "a dangerous storm" and that flooding caused by the heavy rainfall could still worsen. "I want people to understand that this is not over," he said. "The impacts of this storm will be felt for some time, and the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer."
Meanwhile, the confirmed death toll from the storm continued to inch up Sunday evening, with the latest official count at 19 dead in a total of eight states, the Associated Press reports. North Carolina and Virginia were the hardest hit states, with five and four confirmed casualties, respectively. Deaths were also reported in Pennsylvania (3), New York (2), Florida (2), New Jersey (1), Maryland (1) and Connecticut (1).
[Check out Slate's photo gallery of Irene's aftermath here.]
UPDATE Sunday 11 a.m.: A little more wet than wild, Irene has become a storm not as mean as some had feared.
Downgraded to a tropical storm overnight, the large weather system has left several million customers without power and downed trees and power lines, bringing with it a 3.5-foot storm surge that spilled over the seawall at the bottom of Manhattan and in Coney Island, according to The New York Times.
Flooding from the storm closed down several smaller city bridges and one of the tubes of the Holland Tunnel between New York and New Jersey, and some 9,600 people are staying in evacuation centers around the city. Some of the most significant flooding could be seen in lower Manhattan, in and around Wall Street and New York’s financial center.
“You could see newspaper stands floating down the street,” SoHo hotel doorman Scott Baxter told the Associated Press.
While forecasters have tempered their predictions of the storm’s damage, officials said Irene’s heavy rain and expected surge was still dangerous.
"Everything is still in effect," National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen told the AP. "The last thing people should do is go outside. They need to get inside and stay in a safe place until this thing is over."
The storm, expected to have passed New York by around noon Sunday, could leave residual flooding in its wake, forcing rivers and other waterways to crest into the afternoon in New York as it moves north.
Irene has killed at least 11 people, and power companies serving the coast in Delaware and New Jersey say some customers may have to wait a week to get power back. In New York, power provider Con Edison said that it did not have to shut down part of the grid in lower Manhattan after all.
Update 3:40 p.m.: His Spanish may not be very good, but his English is abundantly clear: if you're in an area of New York City that's being evacuated, Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants you to get out.
Speaking at a press conference just minutes ago, the mayor said: "This is a storm where if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can be fatal. I hate to sound like a broken record, but that's exactly what we're trying to do. For those of you who are in areas being evacuated, you need to leave right now."
Sanitation workers have been tipping trashcans on street corners to avoid them being picked up by high winds that will hit the area starting tonight. He also said that as winds pick up some bridges might be closed, rendering Staten Island residents effectively marooned until the storm passes. The mayor also predicted that the city's giant transit system, shut down at noon today, might not be back online until midday Monday, making commutes difficult or impossible.
"Right now we are concerned with saving lives," said the mayor, who encouraged residents to keep stores of fresh water, stay away from windows in high buildings, and be ready for power outages. After all his grim talk however, the mayor said that everything would be fine. "We are New Yorkers. We've always risen to the challenge."
The mayor also waved off a press question about potential looting and other security risks, saying, "we don't have that sort of thing here. That's just not the New York of today."
Update 1 p.m.: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, speaking at FEMA headquarters in Washington, said that there were no outstanding requests for federal aid from state governments, according to The New York Times. Saying coastal areas had moved from the preparation phase to riding out the impact and assesing dammage, Secretary Napolitano also said that the storm's slightly weakened status should not encourage anyone to relax about the impact.
"Irene remains a large and dangerous storm," Napolitano said. "People need to take it seriously. People need to be prepared."
Meanwhile the storm's storm surge and heavy rains were starting to be seen in Delaware and Maryland, as surfers in Long Island continued to dive into high, churning waves. The first few deaths caused by the storm were also reported early Saturday, one after a tree branch fell on a man in Nash County, N.C.
Irene was set to make landfall in New York City early in the morning on Sunday. Officials warned that the storm might force power company Con Edison to shut down parts of the grid in the city; some 250,000 customers' power was reportedly out in areas already hit by the storm.
While the storm is currently a Category 1, and has lost some of its windspeed according to the National Hurricane Center, officials say the storm surge in the ocean and heavy rains could fell trees in already-saturated ground. Thousands of residents of Nassau County in New York are being evacuated.
Original post: After days of anticipation, Hurricane Irene struck the North Carolina coast early Saturday morning, throwing drenching rains and high winds at the area tens of thousands had left hours earlier.
The storm has been downgraded by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, according to the Associated Press, with winds now sustaining at approximately 85 mph.
“There’s nothing you can do now but wait. You can hear the wind and it’s scary,” Outer Banks resident Leon Reasor told the AP. “Things are banging against the house. I hope it doesn’t get worse, but I know it will.”
But the expected damage and impact of the slow-moving behemoth, some 290 miles across, was not lessened. The number of those ordered to evacuate New York City was upped from 250,000 to 370,000 Saturday, as the largest public transportation system prepared to shut down entirely by noon.
Everything from outdoor concerts to a Mets/Braves Major League Baseball game and Broadway shows have been canceled, and the city’s major zoos shuttered, according to The New York Times. Taxis and busses in the city have been ordered to take animals as passengers, and several bridge tolls--while bridges remain open--have been abandoned to aid in speeding up evacuations.
Officials, concerned that their warnings would not be heeded, became sterner on Friday and Saturday. One man in New Jersey was told that if he would not leave his coastal home, he should put an index card with his social security number, name and address in his left shoe, so a coroner could find it.
Residents of the New Jersey shoreline got a very “Jersey Shore” evacuation warning from their governor Chris Christie Friday.
“Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out—you’re done,” he said. “You’ve maximized your tan. Get off the beach. Get in your cars, and get out of those areas.”