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Irene Falls Short of ‘Doomsday’ Predictions: ‘We Got Lucky’

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"The beach is still here, and there is lots of it."

The US Capitol Building is seen through raindrops of a car window the morning after Hurricane Irene moved through the East Coast, Sunday, Aug., 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (The Blaze/AP) -- From North Carolina to Pennsylvania, Hurricane Irene appeared to have fallen short of the doomsday predictions. But with rivers still rising, and roads impassable because of high water and fallen trees, it could be days before the full extent of the damage is known.

More than 4.5 million homes and businesses along the East Coast lost power, and at least nine deaths were blamed on the storm. But as day broke Sunday, light damage was reported in many places, with little more than downed trees and power lines.

"I think it's a little strong to say we dodged a bullet. However, it certainly could have turned out worse for the Hampton Roads area" in Virginia, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Montefusco.

At the same time, officials warned of the possibility of severe flooding over the next few days as runoff from the storm makes its way into creeks and rivers. In some parts of the Northeast, the ground was soggy even before the storm because of an extremely rainy August.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said: "The rivers may not crest until Tuesday or Wednesday. This isn't just a 24-hour event."

Seawater surged into the streets of Manhattan on Sunday as Tropical Storm Irene slammed into New York, downgraded from a hurricane but still unleashing furious wind and rain. The flooding threatened Wall Street and the heart of the global financial network.

Salty water from New York Harbor submerged parts of a promenade at the base of the island. A foot of water rushed over the wall of a marina in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gold and oil are traded.

"You could see newspaper stands floating down the street," said Scott Baxter, a hotel doorman in the SoHo neighborhood.

As the center of the storm passed over Central Park at midmorning, floodwater reached the wheel wells of some stranded cars in Manhattan, and more streamed into the streets of Queens.

Still, the storm was far from the worst fears. The Sept. 11 museum, a centerpiece of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, said on Twitter that none of its memorial trees were lost.

Irene weakened to winds of 65 mph, below the 74 mph dividing line between a hurricane and tropical storm. The system was still massive and powerful, forming a figure six that covered the Northeast. It was moving twice as fast as the day before.

Irene's storm surge and heavy rain of six inches to a foot in many places triggered flooding along much of the East Coast. The storm was still pummeling the Northeast on Sunday morning, dropping below hurricane strength but still dangerous with high winds and heavy downpours.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had initially warned that Irene could be a "catastrophic" monster with record storm surges of up to 8 feet.

But in Virginia Beach, the city posted on Twitter late Saturday that initial reports were promising, with the resort area suffering minimal damage. And in Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan reported: "Scattered power outages. No reports of major damage!"

In Lusby, Md., Constellation Energy Nuclear Group said one of two nuclear reactors at Calvert Cliffs went off-line automatically because of Irene's winds. Constellation said the plant was safe.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said Irene inflicted significant damage along her state's coast, but that the full extent was unclear because some areas were unreachable because of high water or downed power lines.

Perdue planned an aerial tour Sunday of the hardest-hit counties after TV coverage showed downed trees, toppled utility poles and power lines and mangled awnings.

Officials in North Carolina's Dare County said they were advised there was extensive flooding that needed to be checked out.

Elsewhere, authorities suggested Irene didn't create the kind of havoc that had been anticipated.

"We were prepared for a lot worse, but we got lucky on this one," said Bruce Shell, New Hanover County, N.C., manager.

He said many of the 70,000 homes that lost power Saturday were back online in the evening and a wastewater spill at Wrightsville Beach appeared to be minor.

Pinehurst dentist Harwell Palmer said his home in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., lost a few pieces of siding and there was some street flooding, but a pier that took a pounding from the waves was still standing. The storm did gobble up some of the sand.

"The main concern we will have going forward is the loss of beach," he said.

The question still facing the region was whether Irene's effects over the next few days would match the mess left behind by such storms as Floyd and Isabel.

In 1999, Floyd dropped at least 15 inches of rain on eastern North Carolina. The flooding was the most damaging in the state's history, topping $3 billion in North Carolina. Four years later, Isabel brought hurricane conditions to eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia, causing about $1 billion in damage.

Throughout the East Coast storm zone, the total extent of damage was unclear, but officials and in parts of the storm zone were relieved to find their communities with relatively minor problems. Forecasters said the storm remained capable of causing ruinous flooding with a combination of storm surge, high tides and 6 to 12 inches of rain.

"Everything is still in effect," National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. "The last thing people should do is go outside. They need to get inside and stay in a safe place until this thing is over."

Irene caused flooding from North Carolina to Delaware, both from the 7-foot waves it pushed into the coast and from heavy rain. Eastern North Carolina got 10 to 14 inches of rain. Virginia's Hampton Roads area was drenched with at least 9 inches, 16 in some spots.

In Ocean City, Md., Charlie Koetzle stayed throughout the storm. He was up at 4 a.m., walking on the city's boardwalk, and said by phone that he saw at least one sign that had been blown down but that the pier was still intact.

"The beach is still here, and there is lots of it," he said.

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Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko in Ocean City, Md., Randall Chase in Georgetown, Del., and Dena Potter in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report. Foreman reported from Raleigh, N.C.

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