New England flooded as New York spared Irene's fury

5.5 million without power on east coast; death toll rises to 24; Michele Bachmann calls hurricane, earthquake "acts of god" to be heeded.

Manhattan sunset 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)
Manhattan sunset 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)
Vermont struggled with its worst flooding in 80 years and reconnaissance teams scoured Massachusetts to assess the devastation on Monday after a weakened Hurricane Irene slammed an already soaked New England with torrential rain.
The death toll rose to 24 on Monday, as some 5.5 million homes and business were still without power from North Carolina to Maine.
New Yorkers come out to inspect aftermath of Irene
Gallery: Hurricane Irene batters New York, East Coast
Utilities said it could take days to restore electricity in more accessible areas, or up to weeks in the hardest-hit regions.
"It's going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude," President Barack Obama told reporters. "The effects are still being felt across much of the country, including in New England and states like Vermont where there's been an enormous amount of flooding. ... I'm going to make sure that FEMA (federal emergency management) and other agencies are doing everything in their power to help people on the ground."
Spared from Irene's worst fury, New York City went back to work on Monday despite a partially crippled mass transit system and power outages that left 100,000 customers in the metropolitan area without electricity.
Hurricane Irene swept through Manhattan on Sunday but reserved the worst of its fury for towns and suburbs up and down the northeastern United States where driving rain and flood tides inundated homes and cut power to millions.
Irene forced the closure of New York's mass transit system, and the cancellation of thousands of flights.
US President Barack Obama warned the region's problems were far from over, promising federal government help for recovery efforts.
It wasn't immediately clear how much Irene would cost but in New Jersey alone the damage was expected in "the billions of dollars," Governor Chris Christie told NBC's Meet the Press. With many thousands of homeowners in the region suffering flooding there will be many questions over whether insurance policies offer cover and whether the federal government's flood program can handle the claims, especially at a time of austerity in Washington and in cash-strapped states.
For Republican presidentialcandidate Michele Bachmann, Hurricane Irene and last week'searthquake in the eastern United States were a message from Godthat Washington needs to change its policies.
Even as Irene was beginning its raking course up the EastCoast over the weekend, killing 24 people and causingwidespread flooding and power outages, Bachmann told seniorcitizens in Poinciana, Florida, on Saturday that the hurricanewas an "act of God" that Washington should heed.
"Washington, D.C., you'd think by now they'd get themessage. An earthquake, a hurricane. Are you listening? TheAmerican people have done everything they can, and now it'stime for an act of God and we're getting it," she said, drawingsome laughs from her audience.
Bachmann's spokesman later said her comments were meant as a joke.
"Of course she was saying it in jest," Alice Stewart,spokeswoman for Bachmann's campaign, told Reuters.