15 dead as Irene wreaks havoc along US east coast
New York City avoided disaster yesterday when Hurricane Irene weakened into a tropical storm.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city had "dodged the bullet" after most areas experienced no more than high winds and light flooding.
However, at least 15 people were killed further south, as Irene battered the east coast of the US. Four million homes and businesses were left without power.
Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, estimated that the cost of damage to buildings and infrastructure would be in the "billions of dollars, if not the tens of billions of dollars".
Several major cities were effectively shut down, with public transport systems closed and shops shuttered. New York's busy airports were closed, cancelling 10,000 flights.
Drownings were reported from Florida to New Jersey, while other victims were crushed by falling debris. Residents in several states suffered serious damage to their homes.
An 11-year-old boy died when a tree fell through the roof of his house in North Carolina. A woman in Maryland was crushed by her chimney when it fell through the ceiling of her home.
A surfer succumbed in the 10ft waves he had hoped to enjoy in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, while a woman in New Jersey drowned in her car after becoming stuck on a flooded road.
Even in the outer boroughs of New York more than 60 people had to be rescued from flooded properties.
Mr Bloomberg defended ordering 370,000 residents in low-lying areas to evacuate and telling the city's other 7.5 million people to stay inside for 24 hours. "We're just not going to take any risks with people's lives," he said.
By the time it reached New York City, however, Irene had partially collapsed. Downgraded to a 60mph tropical storm, the city's first since 1983, it brought none of the feared carnage.
Residents of Quogue in Long Island who refused to evacuate were even ordered by firemen going door-to-door on Saturday night to write their social security numbers on their arms in permanent marker, in case their bodies needed to be identified later.
The authorities in states up and down the eastern seaboard will spend the next weeks and months examining the effectiveness of their hurricane-readiness operations, grateful that Irene's surprising lack of ferocity meant any flaws did not lead to major loss of life. (© Daily Telegraph, London)