Irene's U.S. death toll rises as cleanup begins

The number crunching and recovery efforts have begun as people resume their normal routines after Hurricane Irene's weekend Eastern Seaboard wallop left at least 40 dead, caused massive flooding, and paralyzed air and ground transportation.

At least 40 die after hurricane weakened to post-tropical storm

The recovery efforts and disaster number-crunching are ongoing in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, after the storm's weekend Eastern Seaboard battering left at least 40 dead , caused massive flooding, and paralyzed air and ground transportation.

After Irene weakened to a post-tropical storm and headed over Eastern Canada on Monday morning, New York City commuters were back using the restarted subway network that normally handles about five million riders daily. Flooding in New York wasn't extensive because Irene's eye passed over Coney Island and Central Park.

Although the Big Apple had braced for an epic disaster scenario, it was landlocked Vermont that suffered historic flooding.

Several New England towns battled the flood waters as utility crews along the East Coast struggled to bring electricity back for four million clients. Heavy rains had turned normally placid streams in Vermont — in inland state — into deluges of historic levels. The state was declared a federal disaster area and Gov. Peter Shumlin called it the worst flooding in a century.

Vancouverites take to the rain for an impromptu hockey game at Times Square in New York City late Saturday as Hurricane Irene approaches the region. (Chelsea Matiash/Associated Press)

Their Canucks may not have brought home the Stanley Cup this year, but a few hardy Vancouverites should earn a trophy of some sort for their gutsy move onto the streets of hurricane-threatened New York City.

While some New Yorkers were evacuating the Big Apple on orders from the mayor, a group from the B.C. city took to Times Square for a wet and wild game of hockey Saturday night.

The impromptu game was captured on video and in photos, which show both men and women stickhandling a puck. Some of the men could be seen wearing hockey jerseys, while others went shirtless as they braved the rain and strong winds.

Police officers halted the fun around 10:30 p.m. ET.

It's uncertain why the residents of Vancouver, home to the team that lost the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins in June, were in New York City on the weekend.

"We literally were taking on an inch and a half of rain per hour, and for a sustained period," Shumlin said. "You just can't take that."

One of the state's famous covered bridges, built in 1870, was swept away by raging waters.

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged that the government will do all it can to help residents cope with the massive damage. But "it's going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude," he warned.

Power companies in the northeast hustled to restore power to more than four million customers still in the dark, after nearly eight million homes and businesses lost electricity due to the storm over the weekend. As of 5 p.m. ET, 3.6 million customers were back on the grid.

In New York, some transit service remains suspended after the unprecedented shutdown of the largest transit system in the U.S.

Six of the Long Island Rail Road's 11 branches are running. But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority warns there may be some cancellations on some routes. As well, service remains suspended on the Metro-North Railroad — serving regions north of New York City, from Westchester to southern Connecticut — because of severe flooding and the after-effects of mudslides, and most New Jersey Transit trains also won't be running Monday.

Many cab drivers in New York were struggling to get moving in the morning as their vehicles were deep in water.

The New York Stock Exchange said it would be open for business on Monday, and the Sept. 11 memorial at the World Trade Center site didn't lose a single tree.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg stuck by his decision last last week to order 370,000 residents to evacuate their homes in low-lying areas, saying it was impossible to know just how powerful the storm would be. "We were just unwilling to risk the life of a single New Yorker," he said.

Following the cancellation of about 9,000 flights, airports in New York and around the Northeast were reopening to a backlog of hundreds of thousands of passengers. The flight tracking service FlightAware estimates that 650,000 passengers have been stranded since Irene struck, while other experts have put the estimate at more than a million.

But parts of the Northeast are still grappling with widespread power outages and people whose homes have been destroyed have been left stranded.

While financial damage estimates are preliminary at best — one consulting firm pegged total losses at about $7 billion US, with insured losses between $2 billion and $3 billion — the emotional toll after the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental U.S. since 2008 is incalcuable.  

'The impact of this storm will be felt for some time'

"I want to underscore the impacts of this storm will be felt for some time and the recovery effort may last for weeks and months," President Barack Obama warned during an address Sunday night.

The number of storm-related deaths is now at least 44. The ages of the fatalities ranged from an 11-year-old boy in Newport, Va., who was killed when a large tree crashed through his apartment, to an 89-year-old woman in Prospect, Conn., who was killed early Sunday when a falling tree limb pulled power lines onto her house and started a fire.

Hundreds of people remain out of their homes in Vermont, after they were told to leave before Irene swamped the landlocked state. In one video posted online, an empty car somersaulted down a river in Bennington.

"It's pretty fierce. I've never seen anything like it," said Michelle Guevin, who spoke from a Brattleboro restaurant after leaving her home in nearby Newfane. She said the fast-moving Rock River was washing out the road to her house.

Green Mountain Power decided against flooding Montpelier, the capital, to save the earthen Marshfield Dam, about 32 kilometres up the Winooski River to the northeast. Water levels had stabilized Monday morning but engineers were continuing to monitor the situation.

People look over the damage to the home of Sue and Jack Holloway on Crab Apple Court in the Nassau Station development in Lewis, Del., on Sunday following Irene's powerful wallop. (The News Journal, Suchat Pederson/Associated Press)

Officials are working to repair hundreds of damaged roads, and power companies picked through uprooted trees and reconnected lines.

Twenty homes on Long Island Sound in Connecticut were destroyed by churning surf. The torrential rain chased hundreds of people in upstate New York from their homes and closed 220 kilometres of the state's main highway.

Authorities in and around Easton, Pa., kept a close eye on the rising Delaware River. The National Weather Service forecast the river to crest there at 10 metres, well above normal flood stage.

In the South, authorities still were not sure how much damage had been done but expressed relief that it wasn't worse.

"Thank God it weakened a little bit," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who toured a hard-hit Richmond neighborhood where large, old-growth trees uprooted and crushed houses and automobiles.

Eastern Canada hit next

In Norfolk, most of the water had receded by Sunday. There was isolated flooding and downed trees, but nowhere near the damage officials predicted.

"We can't believe a hurricane came through here," city spokeswoman Lori Crouch said.

In North Carolina, where six people were killed, the infrastructure losses included the only road to the seven villages on Hatteras Island.

"Overall, the destruction is not as severe as I was worried it might be, but there is still lots and lots of destruction, and people's lives are turned upside down," Gov. Beverly Perdue said in Kill Devil Hills.

Irene was a major hurricane at one point, with winds higher than 175 km/h as it headed toward the U.S. By the time it hit New York, it was a tropical storm with 105 km/h winds. It lost the characteristics of a tropical storm and had slowed to 80 km/h by the time it reached Canada.

The remnants of the hurricane are creating strong winds and dumping heavy rain on parts of Quebec and the Maritime provinces, leaving thousands without power on Monday afternoon.

In Quebec, two people were reported missing. The Sûreté du Québec is searching the Yamaska River for a man who was in a car that was swept away by rushing water when a culvert collapsed in Yamaska. Two other men were injured in the collapse, which left a 30-metre long hole.

An 81-year-old man also went missing Sunday, after going for a walk near his cottage in Shawinigan, just as the storm was entering Canada.

At 5:45 p.m. ET Monday, the storm was centred about 195 kilometres southeast of Wabush, N.L., and was tracking northeast at about 46 km/h, bringing with it maximum sustained winds of 85 km/h.

With files from The Associated Press, CNN