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Irene triggers flooding, power loss climbs to over a million

Irene might be gone, but it sunk the region underwater, caused widespread damage, left more than a million customers without power, and caused at least one local death.

Irene might be gone, but it sunk the region underwater, caused widespread damage, left more than a million customers without power, and caused at least one local death.

Flooding still threatened residents of Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey today, even as Hurricane Irene was well past the area.

Irene dumped up to eight inches of rain on some parts of the area, chasing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and from shore vacations. Thousands ended up in temporary shelters.

Most of the high winds never materialized, even though strong gusts were reported. But, as of this evening, the most serious result of the storm was flood water, rising alarmingly fast in some places.

Of particular interest: Flood warnings on a range of creeks and rivers, including the Schuylkill, which crested today at 13.56 feet at 2:30 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

The main stem of the Delaware River - the non-tidal stretch above Trenton - will likely crest Monday morning, and the tidal portion of the Delaware at Philadelphia has probably already seen its high water mark of nearly 10 feet at 1:48 a.m., a National Weather Service official said.

Gov. Corbett, Mayor Nutter and a number of other elected officials gathered in East Falls this evening to survey damage and brief the media. They stood at the edge of a gas station parking lot, where the Schuylkill flooded Kelly Drive.

Corbett said he had spent the day touring water-damaged areas of Pennsylvania and would do the same on Monday.

Corbett said there were three fatalities statewide, though none in the immediate area. He commended Pennsylvanians for their conduct during the storm.

"You followed the instructions, and I know that doesn't always happen," Corbett said.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) said that although the rain had stopped, "there still remains a lot of problems, a lot of suffering. It's still important to remain vigilant about what's happening in our neighborhoods and our homes."

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) said he believed the White House would "favorably consider our request for emergency funds."

Mayor Nutter lifted the city's emergency declaration at noon, and SEPTA began restoring some service as of 10 a.m., including subway and trolley lines.

Regional utility companies said more than 800,000 customers had lost power, but the governors of Pa. and N.J. said their states had more than a million without power. Utility officials said it could be a week or more before service is restored for everyone.

Although seven buildings were damaged from the storm and flooding remained a problem in many areas of city, Philadelphia seemed to be coping well with Hurricane Irene.

Nutter credited that to the city's preparedness and residents who evacuated flood prone areas and stayed indoors during the night's heavy winds and rain.

PECO, the mayor said, had 4,000 people positioned before the storm began.

"But trees are still going down, and more people's power is going out," Nutter said. "They will get to you. It may take a little while."

Nutter said that city offices would be open on Monday, and trash pickup would happen as scheduled. He said he expected to see road surface on Kelly Drive again on Monday, as well.

One fatality was attributed directly to the storm. A woman who had called police early Sunday for help getting out of her flooded car in Salem County was found dead in the vehicle hours later.

Flooding and downed power lines remained dangers to the public today, Nutter said.

"We do not want folks to be deceived by what's going on or what they may see out their window," he said. "Flooding is a very serious concern."

Main Street in Manayunk faces "significant challenges" from flooding, he said.

In all, Nutter said, the city has absorbed six inches of rain.

Monday promises to be sunny, according to current forecasts.Philadelphia International Airport reopened at 4 p.m., but no departures were scheduled. Officials asked travelers to stay away today.

The number of customers without power climbed all day Sunday. Gov. Corbett said Sunday that 700,000 were without power across Pennsylvania and Gov. Christie said 650,000 lost electricity in New Jersey.

The local utilities said 817,621 had lost power. PECO reported 375,000, PSE&G reported 330,000 and Atlantic City Electric reported 112,621.

And it could be a while before some see it turned back on.

"Our restoration time that we're seeing now could be 1 to 2 weeks for some, depending on how much damage there is in the area," said PECO spokeswoman Karen Muldoon Geus.

"The ground is completely saturated," she said. "We've gotten a ton of rain, and damaged trees with branches are falling on power lines. On top of that, we have cleanup to do."

PECO has about 4,000 people in the field plus 800 from other states.

For the most part, the inland suburbs appear in worse shape than the shore.

"It looks like we dodged a bullet," said Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi. "It could have been a lot worse."

And the storm seems to have been a wash along many other Shore towns, with minimal winds and damage minimal and floods receding.

But it's left Ventnor police fretting that no one will listen if an evacuation is ordered again.

Indeed, many who left went to places that lost power and where flooding was worse, such as Philadelphia and its suburbs.

In Upper Moreland, a boat of rescuers overturned on Sunday, and the rescuers had to be rescued themselves. None was hurt.

Reports of rescues came in from Bucks, Montgomery and Chester counties in Pennsylvania, and Salem and Mercer counties in New Jersey.

In North Philadelphia Sunday, a building that housed a Chinese restaurant and a home collapsed after heavy rains. Rescuers searched for the occupants of the home, but later said they were believed to be unharmed.

Early Sunday, Lower Merion Township Police urged residents to stay home, warning that "numerous trees are currently blocking roads and many locations are experiencing flooding conditions. The locations are too numerous to list."

In Bucks County, police and rescue workers were flooded with "person in water calls" through Saturday night, but all were handled without incident, officials said.

"We've gotten calls all night from a bunch of people who don't heed warnings," a county police dispatcher said.

Penndel Fire Company Chief Tom Rimmer said he had gotten "a lot of routine calls - getting people out of cars."

In Delaware County, where the state of emergency was lifted at noon today, a shelter in Chichester Middle School shut down after the eight residents who took advantage of the option left, said William A. Lovejoy, county spokesman.

There were reports of flooding in Tinicum Township when waters from the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge crossed over roads in The Lester neighborhood, he said.

Officials were keeping an eye on the Brandywine Creek which had risen to 17 feet - about eight feet above flood stage. The Chester Creek is at 13 1/2 feet, flood stage is 8 feet. It peaked at 2:15 a.m. At 15 ft and 7 inches.

They received reports the flooded Darby Creek was already receding.

In Chester County, the Brandwine Creek at Chadds Ford crested at 1:15 p.m. at 15.23 feet, over its 9 feet limit. The overflow hampered travel and resulted in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District pushing back its scheduled first day of classes from Monday to Tuesday.

Impassable because of flooding during Saturday evening were Cobbs Creek Parkway, the Spring Garden Street tunnel near the Art Museum, Delaware Avenue at Spring Garden Street, and the intersection at 34th and Girard - to name a few locations.

The Christina River and White Clay Creek in Delaware were expected to overflow Sunday as well.