Storm-tossed toys add to the dollhouse effect at the damaged Virginia Beach (map) home of Denise Robinson (left), seen cleaning up Sunday after Hurricane Irene struck the city Saturday. Downgraded to a tropical storm Sunday morning, weakening Irene continued its march up the U.S. East Coast, to New York City and beyond.
Even as clouds went from gray to white and sunshine again struck much of the coast Sunday, officials cautioned that the danger hadn't gone with the wind and rain. Flooding is seen as a major threat as Irene's storm surges swell inland waterways.
"Our focus really is now on the next 72 hours," U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate said at a press conference Sunday. "We may not yet have all the impacts from the storm as rivers continue to come up."
"We have a ways to go, but I think it is safe to say that the worst of the storm, at least up to and including New York and New Jersey, has passed," U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Sunday.
Workers on Sunday pump water dumped by Hurricane Irene Saturday from the slope leading to the Midtown Tunnel in Norfolk, Virginia. The tunnel itself was protected by floodgates that seal the passage. Irene inundated parts of Virginia with up to 15 inches of rain.
Down the road from Norfolk, an 11-year-old boy in Newport News was killed Saturday when a tree fell into his apartment, according to USA Today—contributing to the storm's death toll of at least 14.
Waves and storm surges slam the Asbury Park, New Jersey, boardwalk as Irene makes landfall near dawn on Sunday. "We're going to experience major flooding,'' Governor Christie said during a news briefing later in the day. "Some rivers haven't crested yet and it's still raining in various parts of the state.''
Prior to Irene's landfall in the state, meteorologist Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground website had expressed concern for coastal New Jersey.
On Sunday, just days from the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, water from Irene floods the World Trade Center site, which is being redeveloped. Irene's storm surge pushed some 3.5 additional feet (110 centimeters) of water into New York Harbor earlier in the day.
Irene's astronomically inopportune timing exacerbated storm surges in parts of the East Coast.
During new and full moons, the sun, Earth, and the moon are arranged in a straight line, with the sun and moon intensifying each other's gravitational pull on Earth. The result is more severe tidal fluctuations—low tides are lower than usual, but more to the point, high tides are higher.
Due to these so-called spring tides ("spring" in the sense of jumping), any town that sees the hurricane pass by during one of the two daily high tides is especially in danger of heavy flooding due to storm surges.
Photograph by Mario Tama, Getty Images
New York Bucket Brigade
After the storm, residents on Sunday help bail out a basement apartment in New York City, where some residents said Irene hadn't lived up to her billing.
"It was just a big non-event," banker Rob Kuchar told the Bloomberg news service. "It was interesting to walk around the city and not see anybody. But at the end of the day, there were just some trees down and some rain."
Swollen by Hurricane Irene's wind and rain, the Albemarle Sound floods a causeway in the resort town of Nags Head, North Carolina, Saturday.
Irene was generating 85-mile-an-hour (137-kilometer-an-hour) gusts when it made its first U.S. landfall near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, around 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane.
As of 2 p.m. ET Sunday, Irene, now a tropical storm, was moving up the southern New England Coast with winds of about 60 miles (97 kilometers) an hour radiating out about 320 miles (515 kilometers) from the eye, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Tropical storm force winds were expected to continue at least until Irene strafes eastern Canada's Maritime Provinces late Sunday.