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New Yorkers recover from storm that brought out their best

High winds from Hurricane Irene knocked down five large trees in front of the East River Cooperative Village apartment buildings along Grand Avenue in New York City.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Forced into involuntary slumber by Hurricane Irene, the city that never sleeps is taking a while to wake up.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned residents to be prepared for "a tough commute" on Monday morning as the city dealt with the storm's legacy of flooded subway stations and downed power lines.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the world's largest subway network, said it would not reopen the system until the flooding had receded and its crews were able to inspect hundreds of kilometres of track. That was expected to take until late Monday.

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Though stock markets promised business as usual on Monday, air travel was set to resume only gradually at the region's six airports. They were ordered by federal authorities to shut down as Irene raced up the U.S. East Coast after hitting North Carolina on Saturday.

"Bouncing back from a weather event like Irene is a bit like throwing a 1,000-piece puzzle in the air and trying to put it all back together," Jet Blue spokesman Sebastian White explained in an e-mail. "There are the planes and the crews, but we also need the airports, airport security, air traffic control, mass transit, and all those other pieces to be in place, too."

While Irene packed far less of a punch than authorities had feared, it was still the Northeast's worst storm in decades. It left a path of debris all along the coast and as far inland as Washington, D.C.

At least 14 deaths had been reported from the storm by Sunday afternoon. Record or near-record power outages occurred in several regions, leaving millions of households without electricity. Flooding was widespread.

But the storm also brought out the best in New Yorkers. Mr. Bloomberg announced that there were only 45 arrests in the city on Saturday night, almost eight times fewer than on a typical summer Saturday evening.

Though Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm before it reached New York, its sheer scope made assessing the overall impact difficult.

"I've got to imagine that the damage estimates are going to be in the billions of dollars, if not the tens of billions of dollars," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on NBC's Meet the Press.

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Still, while politicians congratulated themselves and each other for moving proactively to prepare for the storm, they also faced charges of overreacting by ordering the mandatory evacuation of more than two million residents along the coast and in lower Manhattan.

Their prestorm warnings also prompted tens of millions of Americans to stockpile supplies and hunker down for the worst.

Thousands planned to visit Washington for Sunday's planned dedication of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The event was cancelled on Friday. But by mid-day Sunday, sun shone on the capital.

"In Washington, all the lobbyists were stocking up on pinot grigio, the panic was so bad," New York Times columnist David Brooks quipped on Meet the Press. "Obviously, since [Hurricane]Katrina, the message for politicians is go all out, maximize the warning … . [But]if you go hyper every time, people are going to tune it out."

President Barack Obama stepped out in public before, during and after the storm to show that he was on top of the response efforts. While George W. Bush was criticized for being AWOL during Katrina, Mr. Obama held a meeting Sunday morning in the White House Situation Room with members of his cabinet and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.

Speaking later in the Rose Garden, the President emphasized Irene's devastation and called the reaction at the federal, state and local levels "a shining example of how America pulls together in tough times.

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"This is a storm that has claimed lives," Mr. Obama said, warning that flooding could still worsen in some areas. "Response and recovery efforts will be an ongoing operation."

Before the storm, the FEMA put in place 18 disaster incident response teams to assist communities affected by the storm. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate defended those actions, insisting that his agency, whose reputation took a hit after Katrina in 2005, had learned its lessons.

"We shouldn't have to wait until a state is overwhelmed to begin getting ready," he said Sunday. "We should be able to go in before the governor has made a request, have supplies ready, have our teams in the state … . We've really learned to work as one team."

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About the Author

Columnist Konrad Yakabuski writes on politics, policy and business for The Globe and Mail’s Comment section and Report on Business. More

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