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Hurricane Irene leaves 21 dead as massive cleanup begins

Thousands of workers have begun the massive cleanup after Hurricane Irene left a trail of destruction from North Caroline to Maine, killing 21 people and leaving some six million homes and businesses without power.

The recovery effort could take several weeks in some areas as flooding from Irene’s torrential rains still threatens electrical infrastructure, said Philip Bediant, a professor of civil engineering at Rice University in Houston, Bloomberg News reports.

Though Irene did not reach the hurricane-force winds expected, almost one million people lost power in New York, where Irene made landfall yesterday, according to a report from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, it reports.

Some 300,000 people evacuated from low-lying areas have begun returning home.

“It could have been a lot worse in terms of storm surge, could have been worse in terms of the actual wind speeds,” Bediant said. “It did not strengthen like they originally thought.”

The death toll from the hurricane has been reported as 21 and President Barack Obama today warned Americans that their ordeal is not yet over.

“I want people to understand that this is not over. Response and recovery efforts will be an ongoing operation,” Obama who canceled his vacation told reporters as losses from the Hurricane mounted to about US $7 billion.

The majority of the losses are expected to be from property damaged in New York and New Jersey. The states affected by the Category 1 storm are North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida, NDTV reports.

“I do want to underscore that the impacts of this storm will be felt for some time, and the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer,” Obama said, the Telegraph reports.

“Power may be out for days in some areas, and we will support our state and local partners in every way that we can as they work to restore power in those areas,” he said.

Airlines said about 9,000 flights had been canceled, but services into New York and Boston were due to resume today.

Bloomberg reports:

Falling trees dragged down power lines while a storm surge flooded substations, cutting electricity supplies to 471,000 customers on Long Island, said Michael Hervey, chief operating officer of Long Island Power Authority, during a conference call with reporters.

Power disruptions affected almost 6 million homes and businesses in 13 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Energy Department said in a report yesterday.

Irene first hit the coast of North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane August 27 but was downgraded to a tropical storm yesterday and was moving through into Quebec today.

More than 800,000 customers were without power in Virginia and Maryland, and about 116,000 in Maine, the Energy Department said.

Damage was lighter in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg allowed residents evacuated from low-lying areas to begin returning yesterday afternoon after the storm passed.

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