Hurricane Irene could become one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, despite a lighter punch than forecasted. But the lasting impression, in which at least 45 people died in 13 states, has prompted disaster declarations up and down the east coast.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY: “We believe at the end of the day, the total damage will be close to $1 billion, over 600 homes destroyed, six towns inundated; 150 major highways have been damaged, 22 state bridges closed, in the area of agriculture, over $45 million in damage, 140,000 acres and still climbing.”
Visible damage was seen on streets, highways and even famed covered bridges. Complete tallies are far from finished, however, a private consulting firm using computer models put the damage at $7.2 billion across eight states and Washington, D.C.
The National Guard ferried in supplies to hard-hit mountain communities in Vermont. Several regions still had no electricity or telephone service and limited transportation access. The damaged infrastructure is not allowing for full assessment of the devastation or the resumption commerce. Many roads were simply washed away, blocking travel between some cities. Tours of the damage by federal officials proved difficult.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT: “We had to use the helicopter, because there's some of our towns are completely cut off. There's no way you can get in there, which creates all kinds of concerns, not only the devastation in the town, but the fact you can't get medical personnel in, food, water and so forth. So I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen anything quite like this in Vermont.”
The agricultural impact is still being compiled. From North Carolina’s major crop of tobacco to blueberries in New York, several fields have been devastated. And it may not be just this year’s harvest suffering implications of Irene. Long-term damage may have been done to fields, in some cases, running deep into root systems.
This storm follows a year full of natural disasters from a slew of tornadoes to flooding up and down the Missouri River. To date, FEMA has responded to 65 major disasters.
Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security: “Projects that were already under way in places like Joplin in the Midwest where we had all those horrible tornadoes, those projects will continue to be funded. The only adjustment we made over the weekend was to say no new projects in old disasters will be started until we make sure that the immediate needs of the Irene survivors are met. But in the meantime, we're already working with the president and OMB and with the Congress to see what other adjustments need to be made for FEMA funding through the end of the fiscal year.”
A supplemental congressional spending bill could provide more funding for disaster relief.
Since Irene has blown back out to sea, a region already getting attention from the federal government was hit by Mother Nature, adding insult to injury. Wildfires swept across already dry regions of Texas and Oklahoma, charring thousands of already drought-stricken acres. Blazes have destroyed nearly 55-hudred square miles since mid-November, the typical start of the wildfire season.