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Irene Moves Into New England; Millions in Dark

Tropical Storm Irene pushed through New England after killing 18 people, sending rivers to near- record heights and knocking out power to more than 4 million customers in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

Irene was 65 miles south of Rutland, Vermont, with winds of 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour and moving north-northeast at 26 mph as of a 5 p.m. National Hurricane Center update. Irene is expected to be in Canada later today or early tomorrow, the center said.

“It is still a formidable storm,” said David Stark, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, New York, outside of New York City. “Classifying it now is a little bit difficult. The storm surge in the city was pretty significant. We had the sixth-highest level ever recorded in the Battery” in lower Manhattan.

Irene was a shadow of the storm that roared across the Caribbean with Category 3-strength winds of up to 120 mph and crashed into North Carolina’s Outer Banks as a Category 1 hurricane. It dropped to tropical storm status before making landfall in New York City at about 9 a.m.

At least 18 people died from Puerto Rico to Connecticut, 10 of them in North Carolina and Virginia. People from South Carolina to New Hampshire lost power because of Irene, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability.

Evacuees Return

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said residents evacuated from low-lying areas including Coney Island and Battery Park City would be allowed to return home at 3 p.m. His mandatory evacuation order Aug. 26 was the first in the city’s history. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Irene dropped 6.71 inches of rain on Central Park, Stark said. Water levels at Battery Park rose to 9.7 feet and there was coastal flooding all along southern Long Island, he said. A 60 mph wind gust was also recorded in the park, Stark said.

Irene may cost insurers as much as $3 billion to cover U.S. damage, with overall economic losses of $7 billion, according to Kinetic Analysis Corp., which predicts the impact of disasters.

Irene’s Cost

Insured losses in North Carolina and South Carolina are expected to range from $200 million to $400 Million, according to risk-modeling company Eqecat Inc. in Oakland, California. Irene may have caused between $500 million and $1.1 billion in damage to the Bahamas, according to estimates from AIR Worldwide in Boston.

The U.S. has suffered $35 billion in losses in nine separate events so far in 2011, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That tied a record for disasters causing more than $1 billion damage in a single year.

Irene struck the Bahamas last week before making landfall in North Carolina yesterday. It made a second U.S. landfall early today along the New Jersey shore and then passed directly over New York about three hours later, according to the hurricane center in Miami.

Tornadoes were reported in Delaware and Virginia, where they damaged homes, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

High Water

Rivers and creeks throughout the Northeast are rising, according to weather service river gauges.

The Hoosic River near Williamstown, Massachusetts, rose 7.7 feet in 9 hours, reaching almost 4.6 feet above flood stage by midday. The Williams River near Rockingham, Vermont, was at 16.34 feet at 3:45 p.m., or 6.36 feet above its previous high crest in March 1993, according to the weather service. The Connecticut River in Montague, Massachusetts, rose 16.3 feet in eight hours today to reach flood stage there.

Esopus Creek in Cold Brook, New York, rose 17.74 in feet 12 hours to set a record crest of 23.34 feet, breaking the mark set in March 1980, according to the weather service. The creek receded and was at 19.41 feet at 4 p.m.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect from Cape Henlopen, Delaware, northward to Eastport, Maine, and into Canada.

“Continued gradual weakening will occur as the system moves over land today,” according to the hurricane center. “Significantly stronger winds are still possible over high-rise structures and areas of elevated terrain.”

In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Jose was 80 miles northwest of Bermuda with top winds of 45 mph, the center said. Jose is forecast to start to deteriorate tomorrow. A cluster of thunderstorms south of the Cape Verde islands has a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical system in the next two days.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net.

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