Aug. 28, 2011— -- Severe weather warnings for the East Coast of the Unites States are now over as Hurricane Irene has been downgraded again and is no longer a tropical system.
Irene, still with winds at 50 mph, was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm and spared New York City the devastation many predicted, but it has not been so kind to the towns and cities in its path as it moved inland today.
The force of the storm's winds diminished Sunday, but the torrential rains did not let up, swelling rivers and streams until they burst their banks in upstate New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Downtown Windham, N.Y., was "wiped out" by flooding, with 4 feet of water rushing through Main Street, said Michael Scarey, the town's fire chief.
Torrential rains that started Saturday night dumped more than 10 inches of water on the normally quiet community, forcing evacuations, submerging school buses and garages and shutting off access to the rest of the mountaintop.
West of the town, a house was ripped from its foundation and swallowed by the fast moving creek, which slammed it into a bridge.
There were similar scenes in other river towns in the storm's path today, and it is feared that things will only get worse as rivers peak.
"This is not over," President Barack Obama said late today in a brief address from the Rose Garden.
In Vermont, Brattleboro, Bennington, Montpelier and other towns had flooding from swollen rivers.
Irene did not cause quite the level of destruction many feared as it churned up the East Coast this weekend, but it packed enough punch to leave at least 20 dead, millions without power and an estimated $7 billion to $13 billion in damages.
"We're not out of the woods yet. Irene remains a large and potentially dangerous storm," U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
After roaring through coastal North Carolina on Saturday, Irene raked the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey before hitting New York this morning as a tropical storm with 65 mph winds. By 10 a.m. today, patches of blue sky and sunshine began peeking through in lower Manhattan.
With its heavy rainfall and powerful winds, the storm created flood conditions up and down the East Coast. But Irene appeared to have caused less damage than anticipated in the New York area.
Philadelphia experienced significant local flooding in several areas, but subways, elevated trains and bus service in the city were beginning to return to activity on Sunday.
More than 4.5 million East Coast homes and businesses are without power and thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes, according to The Associated Press.
In New York City, the 370,000 residents who were ordered to evacuate their homes were allowed to return this afternoon beginning at 3 p.m.
Close to 2 million people lost power in the New York City area. The National Grid reported that 19,000-plus homes in Rhode Island lost power, and 6,000-plus homes are already without power in Massachusetts.
In lower Manhattan at Wall Street and South Street, water from New York's East River breached the seawall this morning, but has since receded.
Irene made landfall along the coast of New Jersey near Little Egg Inlet, just north of Atlantic City, around 5:35 a.m. The estimated intensity of at landfall was 75 mph.
It was the second time Irene made landfall since slamming into North Carolina Saturday.
While Irene's strength has declined and evacuated residents are returning home, government officials warned the public that the storm still poses safety dangers.
"We still have a ways to go with Irene," Napolitano said at Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) news conference.
Some areas are still prone to tidal flooding and heavy rains will be the ongoing issue as the storm passes through New England today to eastern Canada overnight, FEMA officials said.
Officials said it will take time to assess total damage costs but Peter Morici, a professor at University of Maryland, said the cost of Irene could surpass that of Hurricane Katrina.
"Revised estimates of the direct damage caused by Hurricane Irene are in the range of $20 billion. Add to those the loss of about two days economic activity, spread over a week, across 25 percent of the economy, and an estimate of the losses imposed by Irene is about $40 billion to 45 billion," Morici said.
Loss of Life
At least 20 people have reportedly died as a result of Irene's assault on the East Coast, including victims of car accidents and falling tree limbs. The storm victims include two children: an 11-year-old boy in Virginia, and a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.
The Associate Press contributed to this report.