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East Coast struggles to dry out

Storm damage expected to be in hundreds of millions.

BY BOYCE BOWDON | BOSTON | April 19, 2007

Officials and residents along the East Coast continued Thursday to assess damages caused by the fierce nor'easter that struck the region earlier in the week.

"The worst is over," said Peter Judge of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Damages from the storm, which pounded the East Coast from North Carolina to New England, was expected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, or even higher.

For now, most residents were busy pumping out basements and beginning the process of repairing their homes, utility companies were continuing to restore power and businesses were cleaning up from the floodwaters. Road travel remained difficult in many areas due to flooded roads and damaged bridges.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer added New York to the list of states seeking federal disaster declarations. Spitzer asked that 12 counties, including Orange and Ulster, be declared federal disaster areas, which would clear the way for federal assistance.

In Massachusetts, pounding rain and wind gusts of up to 80 mph had caused problems throughout the state. In addition to flooding homes and business, the storm knocked out power to as many as 100,000 customers. Most service has been restored.

Judge said inland river flooding has probably peaked. The Merrimack River crested at 58.1 feet, but was expected to recede slowly because of continuing rain and snowmelt from New Hampshire.

"We don’t expect it to be below flood stage until at least Friday," he said. "Communities along the Merrimack and its tributaries are being impacted, but certainly not at the severity level that we saw in last May’s flooding."

Coastal flooding concerns were also winding down, he said. There was major beach erosion in Salisbury. Rushing water during high tide Tuesday closed several roads in coastal communities although most reopened once the flooding receded.

One house on Nantucket fell into the sea, but property damage statewide was generally limited, he reported. No deaths were reported in the state and there were no mandatory evacuations.

Winthrop - an historic oceanside community on a peninsula near Boston that is noted for its shops, parks, marinas, inns and miles of beaches - was hit hard by the storm, Judge said.

Jeremy Smith, pastor of the Methodist Church in Winthrop, said only two roads over land provide access to the town.

"Right now, one of the roads is flooded, and the other is so clogged with traffic that it moves very slowly," he said.

Smith said the 35 active members of his congregation were looking out for one another as well as others in the community.

"One of our members who is homebound lives right on the coast, and we are especially concerned about her," said Smith, a recent graduate of Boston School of Theology who is completing his first year as pastor at Winthrop.

The basement of his church - a white steeple building that is 85 years old - was flooded.

"Sharing our basement with other groups is one of the ways our church is in mission to our community," Smith said. "Our basement is used just about every day and every night, either by our congregation or by two Girl Scout Troops, a kids' drama group, a partner church or some other group. So we hope to get the flooding problem taken care of as soon as we possibly can."

Smith said United Methodist disaster response leaders in Massachusetts were assessing needs statewide and would soon be helping people recover from their losses.

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