Obama declares New York disaster area; Irene brings fresh floods

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President Obama on Wednesday declared a major disaster area in New York state because of Hurricane Irene, while residents of neighboring New Jersey faced fresh flooding as rivers were pushed to their limits by runoff from northern regions.

The president’s declaration means federal aid to help recovery efforts in the hardest-hit areas will be expedited. Four days after Irene made landfall in North Carolina, four towns or villages in New York are still under water and 4,800 people remain in shelters. Six people died in the state.

According to the Associated Press, a total of at least 44 people have died in 13 states as a result of Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm as it hit New York City on Sunday morning.

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In New Jersey, the death toll rose overnight to seven after officials found the body of a man who apparently had been sucked down a utility hole while clearing debris from a drainage basin, according to the Star-Ledger.

On Tuesday evening, thousands of people were under mandatory evacuation orders in cities along the Passaic River, which crested overnight and poured water into Paterson, Little Falls, Lincoln Park and other towns. “I saw just extraordinary despair,” Gov. Chris Christie said at a news briefing after visiting some affected areas.

Flood water reached the reception desk at a Ramada Inn in Wayne, N.J., prompting police to order the hotel’s guests -- many of whom had heeded orders to leave their homes -- to evacuate the hotel. Some refused. “Where am I supposed to go? There’s nowhere,” Mimoza Dhurim, whose home was flooded, told the Star-Ledger. The guests were allowed to stay.


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-- Tina Susman in New York