Weakened Irene Heads North

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Hurricane Irene moved through New England as a weakened tropical storm Sunday, after sparing New York City the worst of its fury, but leaving at least 18 people dead, millions without power and severe flooding along the US East Coast.

In an address from the White House Sunday evening, President Barack Obama said that response and recovery efforts will be ongoing along the East Coast as widespread power outages and flooding continue to be a major problem in the wake of the massive storm.

"This is not over," Obama said from the Rose Garden. "The impact of this storm will be felt for some time."

At 5 pm Eastern Time, the National Hurricane Center said Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm Sunday morning, was capable of wind speeds of 50mph (85kph) as it entered northern New England.

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Even at tropical storm strength, Irene was still taking down trees and power lines in its path. The storm also swamped many low-lying or coastal areas with several feet of water, which threatened to wreak havoc long after the storm passed.

Philadelphia's Schuylkill River, the Raritan River in New Jersey and the Delaware River were among many waterways that were still rising after the storm passed on Sunday.

Reports also emerged Sunday evening of flash flooding in southern Vermont that was swamping towns and washing out roads. Images posted on Twitter showed the town of Brattleboro, in the southeast corner of the state, inundated with water.

Also, FOX News Channel reported that 21 people, including several children, were trapped by rising floodwaters Sunday afternoon in a motel in Prattsville, N.Y., which is roughly 50 miles (80km) southwest of Albany and near the Gilboa Dam.

But as the storm moved north, millions who took refuge in their homes or were forced to evacuate during the storm were emerging Sunday to assess the damage. In a midday press conference, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urged people to remain cautious and to be aware of the ongoing hazards of downed power lines and weakened trees.

"No matter where you are this morning, from North Carolina to Maine, we encourage you to stay off the road as much as possible," she added.

Still, Napolitano acknowledged that the most dangerous phase of the storm was over. "We have a ways to go, but I think it's safe to say that the worst of the storm has passed," she said.

New Yorkers, in particular, seemed to be breathing a sigh of relief on Sunday as predictions of major flooding and wind damage largely did not come to pass. Although some flooding was seen in lower Manhattan, forcing a partial closure of the Holland Tunnel for a time Sunday morning, the waters were receding by midday.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said stock exchanges would open as usual Monday morning, although the city's vast subway system will not be running in time for the morning rush hour as workers move trains back into position and inspect tracks and equipment for damage.

Widespread power outages were among the lingering effects of the storm Sunday, after Irene knocked out power to millions from North Carolina into New England.

In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell said 2.5 million individuals were without power, making it the second-largest outage in the state's history.

"It's going to be a matter of days, perhaps longer, before power is fully restored," McDonnell said during a midday press conference.

In North Carolina, where Irene made landfall as a hurricane early Saturday morning, there were more than 500,000 people still without power Sunday morning as clean-up crews began grappling with the storm's wreckage.

Christie announced that roughly 650,000 people were without power in New Jersey and said that total was expected to rise throughout the day, while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said 936,000 were without power in his state Sunday morning.

According to the Hartford Courant, power was knocked out to 700,000 homes and businesses in Connecticut after Irene passed through. The Boston Globe reported about 500,000 Massachusetts residents without power Sunday evening.

State and local governments were working to assess the toll of the storm's damage on Sunday. Appearing with Napolitano, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said assessments could take several days and declined to put a dollar figure on the storm's costs.

Christie, who initially said he expected billions of dollars of damage in his state alone, later said the toll "was not as severe as they (local government and emergency management officials) feared it would be."

At least eighteen people died during the storm, including an 11-year-old Virginia boy, who was killed when a tree crashed onto an apartment building, and a 15-year-old girl killed in North Carolina, when her father's car crashed at an intersection that was without functioning traffic lights because of a power outage.