Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Hurricane Irene Is Over; Power Still Out for Many

What’s left of Hurricane Irene — which technically no longer qualifies as a named storm — has now moved on to Eastern Canada. Residents of the eastern United States are waking up this morning to messes of various kinds.

While New York City was largely spared — though Staten Island and Queens were whacked fairly hard — surrounding states, especially Connecticut and New Jersey, got a good thumping. As many as 700,000 people in Connecticut and 600,000 in New Jersey are without power in the wake of Irene, and many will go without for as long as a week.

Power outages in others states, in no particular order: Vermont is reporting another 50,000 residents without power, and at one point or another, every single road in that state, except for Interstates 89 and 91, were closed due to flooding.

Another 700,000 are without power in Massachusetts; 160,000 are without power in New Hampshire; power is out for 171,000 in Maine; and power is out for 284,000 in Rhode Island.

Power outages were still being addressed this morning in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina; another 20,000 or so are without power in the District of Columbia. Delaware has 39,000 without power, and a tornado touched down there; Pennsylvania, including the Philadelphia area, has about 400,000 without power. The total number of homes and businesses without power up and down the East Coast was in the neighborhood of six million.

An estimate of the cost of damage to insurers, conducted by Kinetic Analysis, a firm that predicts storm damage, is about $3 billion, down from an earlier estimate of $14 billion. The death toll so far is 25.

Flooding is by far the biggest threat. The city of Troy, New York, is threatened by a swelling Hudson River and a fragile dam holding it back.

Overall, communications infrastructure held up pretty well — except in those places where it didn’t. In a conference call on Sunday, the Federal Communications Commission said that 130,000 wireline subscribers lost phone service, while nearly 1,400 cellular telephone sites were out of service. Another 1,093 cell sites were running on backup power, and 500,000 cable TV subscribers lost service. The agency warned the tally could get worse, as power outages remain and battery backup systems fail.

All the stock exchanges in New York will open normally, though lots of traders who typically come into the city on Metro North may have trouble getting to work.

Did I say New York was largely spared? By the storm, mainly, but not by slightly panicked officials. The Metro Transit Authority is scrambling to get the subway system back up and running normally. Having for the first time shut the entire system down, it was limping back to life as of 6 am Eastern time. While the Long Island Railroad is running a nearly normal schedule, Metro North is not expected to operate at all.

New York area airports are re-opening as of 7 am Eastern time. Traffic at Logan International Airport in Boston is still snarled, as is Amtrak’s Acela service. Flights into and out of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., were slowly getting under way.

Another casualty: Local public radio station WNYC suffered damage to its AM transmitter because of flooding in New Jersey, and directed listeners to its Web stream, though its FM transmitter was fine.

For all the trouble Irene caused humankind, a more fragile creature emerged unscathed from the storm’s path. USA Today has an interesting story about a rare whimbrel, a type of shorebird, nicknamed Chinquapin by wildlife scientists in Georgia, who tagged it with a radio tracking device and spotted its signal on the Caribbean island of Eleuthera. The bird had flown through the most dangerous northeast section of Irene when it was still a Category 3 hurricane. Whimbrels typically spend their summers in Canada and then fly south to Brazil to breed. That’s one tough bird.

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”