At least 40 people dead in Irene’s wake

5M homes, businesses still lack power; floods inundate inland areas

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MONTPELIER, Vt. — The full measure of Hurricane Irene’s fury came into focus Monday as the death toll jumped to at least 40, New England towns battled epic floods and millions of people faced the dispiriting prospect of several days without electricity.

From North Carolina to Maine, communities cleaned up and took stock of the uneven and hard-to-predict costs of a storm that spared the nation’s biggest city a nightmare scenario, only to deliver a historic wallop to towns inland.

In New York City, where people had braced for a disaster-movie scene of water swirling around skyscrapers, the subways and buses were up and running again in time for the Monday morning commute. And to the surprise of many New Yorkers, things went pretty smoothly.

But in New England, landlocked Vermont contended with what its governor called the worst flooding in a century. Streams also raged out of control in upstate New York.

In many cases, the moment of maximum danger arrived well after the storm had passed, as rainwater made its way into rivers and streams, and turned them into torrents. Irene dumped as much as 11 inches of rain on Vermont and more than 13 inches in parts of New York.

“We were expecting heavy rains,” said Bobbi-Jean Jeun of Clarksville, near Albany, N.Y. “We were expecting flooding; we weren’t expecting devastation.”

The 11-state death toll, which had stood at 21 people as of Sunday night, sharply rose Monday as bodies were pulled from floodwaters and people were electrocuted by downed power lines.

The tally of Irene’s destruction mounted, too. An apparently vacant home exploded early Monday in an evacuated, flooded area in Pompton Lakes, N.J., and firefighters had to battle the flames from a boat. In the Albany suburb of Guilderland, police rescued two people who were clinging to trees three hours after their car was swept away in a swollen creek.

“It’s going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude,” said President Barack Obama, adding that the government would do everything in its power to help people get back on their feet.

For many people, the aftermath could prove more painful than the storm itself.

In North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore Saturday along the Outer Banks before heading for New York and New England, 1,000 people were still in emergency shelters, awaiting word on their homes. Nearly 5 million homes and businesses in a dozen states were still without electricity, and utilities warned it might be a week or more before some people got their power back.

“Once the refrigerator gets warm, my insulin goes bad. I could go into diabetic shock,” said Patricia Dillon, a partially paralyzed resident of Milford, Conn., where the electricity was out. “I’m very tired, stressed out, aggravated, scared.”

Russ Furlong of Barrington, R.I., said he remembers the two weeks he went without electricity after Hurricane Bob 20 years ago.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to wait that long this time.”

Along the Eastern Seaboard, commuters and vacationers found their travel plans scrambled. Airlines warned it would be days before the thousands of stranded passengers find their way home. Some train service in the Northeast also was suspended.

In Vermont, the state’s emergency management headquarters stood empty Monday, evacuated because of flooding.

In upstate New York, authorities were closely watching major dams holding back drinking-water reservoirs.

Throughout the region, hundreds of roads were impassable because of flooding or fallen trees, and some bridges had simply given way. In all, more than a dozen towns in Vermont and at least three in New York remained cut off by flooded roads and bridges.

Early estimates put Irene’s damage at $7 billion to $10 billion, much smaller than the impact of storms such as Hurricane Katrina, which did more than $100 billion in damage.