TRACKING IRENE - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Flooding Poses Biggest Threat In Irene's Wake

MSNBC.COM - Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved up the East Coast on Sunday, but stretches that had already been hit were now on alert for major flooding as rivers swelled from the storm's runoff.

President Barack Obama spoke Sunday afternoon from the Rose Garden, urging people in Irene's path to stay vigilant and warned East Coast residents of dangers coming in the storm's wake.

"This is not over," Obama said.

The president said emergency officials were most concerned about lengthy power outages and flooding as swollen rivers begin to crest. He urged the public to heed the warnings of local officials in the coming days.

Irene dumped 6 inches to a foot of rain on many of the coastal states. The storm pummeled the New York City area and New England on Sunday morning, dropping below hurricane strength but still dangerous with 50 mph winds and heavy downpours. In much of the area, the ground was already soggy from an especially rainy August, raising the possibility of flash flooding.

Flood and flash flood warnings were in effect in several counties in central and eastern portions of the Pennsylvania.

Irene dumped a half-foot of rain on Philadelphia, which came on top of an already single-month record of more than 13 inches.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said: "The rivers may not crest until Tuesday or Wednesday. This isn't just a 24-hour event."

In New Jersey, officials were preparing for major flooding along the Ramapo River, which was rising quickly, as well as significant flooding along the Delaware River.

Even as New Jersey's coastal residents were preparing to return home, residents along some of its swelling rivers were anticipating evacuation.

In upstate New York, residents living downstream of the Blenheim-Gilboa Dam were asked to evacuate after communication equipment with the dam's monitoring equipment failed amid higher-than-predicted rainfall, the Daily Gazette of Schenectady reported.

"The sirens have gone off and there have been concerns with water, as well as the possibility that the dam could fail," Schoharie County spokeswoman Karen Miller told the Gazette. "We have asked people to please evacuate safely."

She stressed that the evacuation was a precaution taken because of the monitoring equipment but that nothing had happened with the dam itself.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had initially warned of a "catastrophic" storm surge of up to 8 feet, but the state avoided the worst of the surge because of the storm's path.

In a briefing later on Sunday, McDonnell said that the state was watching its rising rivers. Ironically, he said, some of the heaviest rain from Irene fell 50-60 miles inland.

Eastern North Carolina took the hardest hit in that state, where storm surge flooding from high seas cut off roads and stranded people who failed to evacuate, according to the Herald Tribune. At least 200 people were rescued from flooded communities in the Outer Banks, the Raleigh News and Observer reported.

As the storm moved beyond New York City toward Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the National Hurricane Center predicted rainfall of 4-6 inches in most places, up to 8 inches in some locations.

For the northern portion of New York State through the western portion of New England these levels of rainfall "could cause widespread flooding and life-threatening flash floods," the service said in its 2 p.m. ET advisory.

The center warned of a dangerous 4- to 8-foot storm surges further up the coast, "from western portions of Long Island eastward along the southern coasts of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts."

As Irene made landfall in New England on Sunday, heavy rains were reported as far north as Maine.

In Vermont, widespread flooding damaged bridges, and forced the closure of dozens of roads.

"Flash floods are occurring in all areas of the state and more are expected through the evening into Monday," Vermont Emergency Management said on its website. The Red Cross has opened nine shelters for evacuees.

In Rhode Island, mandatory evacuations were in place for low-lying communities including Bristol, Charlestown, Narragansett, South Kingstown, and Westerly. Other communities have voluntary evacuation orders. >>>CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM MSNBC

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