NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City was back to business on Monday after Hurricane Irene but hundreds of thousands of people who normally travel in from the surrounding area faced a difficult commute as flooding knocked out some transit routes.
Farther north, Vermont was battling the state’s worst flooding since 1927 after Irene swept through as a tropical storm late on Sunday. It dumped huge amounts of rain in New Jersey and other states on its way up to Canada.
The storm killed at least 21 people in the United States and cut power to 5 million homes and businesses.
Financial markets were opening as normal, although volume was expected to be reduced. Federal courts in New York also were due to be open.
New York subways and air travel at major airports slowly started to resume service but commuter rail services feeding the city from the north and from New Jersey were out indefinitely, plagued by debris on the tracks and standing water.
On Sunday the doors of the New York Stock Exchange had been lined with sandbags and tarps in anticipation of a flood but they were were nowhere to be seen on Monday morning.
Paul Orlando, 45, who works at a private bank, stood outside two blocks from Wall Street smoking a cigarette and laughed that, in anticipation of a difficult commute, he had gotten to work two hours early from his home in the borough of Queens.
”The MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) website had one story, the news another and the hotlines yet another,“ Orlando said. ”I took the train. It was very smooth. There were no problems.
“I’ll get a lot of work done today, I guess. I get an A for effort.”
Peter Rugen, 45, a banker who normally commutes to work from his home in Manhattan to Stamford, Connecticut, was frustrated to hear from a clerk at Grand Central Station there would be no trains on Monday. “I’ll probably just pay a taxi a lot of money to take me there,” he said, adding it would cost about $120, compared to the train fare of $12.25.
The National Tennis Center in Queens escaped serious damage and the U.S. Open was due to start on Monday as scheduled. A football game between the New York Giants and New York Jets was also due to go ahead on Monday evening at the Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey, despite forecasts that flooding in the state could get worse in the coming days.
Suburban New Jersey and rural Vermont were hit particularly hard by flooding. Both states were inundated with rain after an unusually wet summer season left the ground soaked and rivers swollen even before the storm rumbled through.
At least one person was killed after being swept into a river in mountainous, landlocked Vermont, which rarely sees tropical storms. That brought to at least 21 the total number of people killed by the storm in addition to three who died in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico.
At least one of Vermont’s historic covered bridges was washed away as Irene’s rains sent rivers spilling over their banks, and 50,000 people were without power, officials said on Monday. Governor Peter Shumlin called the flooding catastrophic and several people had to be rescued.
In some Eastern Seaboard states Irene was not as bad expected. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said “we dodged a bullet” after dire predictions failed to produce a catastrophe. But he urged people to stay home from work as the state recovered and pieced together its battered transit system.
“If you don’t have to go to work tomorrow, don’t go to work tomorrow,” Christie said at a news conference on Sunday. “Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult day to travel around the state of New Jersey.”
New Jersey Transit said most rail service would remain suspended until further notice but bus service was operating on a reduced schedule.
Rivers and streams in New Jersey and New York state were expected to peak over the next two days, reaching record or near-record flood levels because the ground already was saturated, officials said.
While it weakened before it hit New York, the swirling storm still packed a wallop, especially in districts such as the Rockaways peninsula, a low-lying strip of land exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on the southeastern flank of the city.
It was not immediately clear how much Irene would cost but in New Jersey alone the damage was expected in “the billions of dollars,” Christie told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
With thousands of homeowners enduring flooding there will be questions over whether insurance policies offer coverage and whether the federal government’s flood program can handle the claims. All this comes at a time of austerity in Washington and in cash-strapped states.
Eqecat, one of the three companies that provide disaster modeling for the insurance industry, said on Monday Irene “is a major event and will be responsible for significant levels of insured losses to property and people.”
New York City’s 8.5 million people are not used to hurricanes but authorities took unprecedented steps to prepare, including ordering mandatory evacuations and a total shutdown of mass transit systems. That will have had a major economic impact.
This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in U.S. history, with $35 billion in losses so far from floods, tornadoes and heat waves.
Reporting by Basil Katz, Edith Honan, Clare Baldwink, Ryan Vlastelica, Angela Moon, Ben Berkowitz in New York and Reuters bureaus throughout the East Coast; Writing by Claudia Parsons; Editing by Christopher Wilson, Eric Beech and Bill Trott