Before weakening to a tropical storm, the first hurricane of the season hit the Eastern seaboard with torrential rains, strong winds and floods.

Hurricane Irene made landfall on Saturday in North Carolina, moved northward along the coast then slammed into Little Egg Inlet, N.J., as a Category 1 storm. Despite predictions, Irene then lost steam as it lumbered toward New England.

New York City and Washington, DC were largely spared, but Vermont suffered a “full-blown flooding catastrophe,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said. Dangerous and damaging floods were reported in New Jersey, and virtually all of the state’s rivers and streams are expected to reach record or near-record levels on Monday. Heavy rainfall also swamped sections of Connecticut, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

At the time of this writing, at least 22 people in eight states have died, and more than 4.5 million homes and businesses have lost power. Utility companies said it could take several weeks for the most severely damaged areas to get electricity again. In the meantime, residents are urged to avoid large pools of water, unstable bridges and roads and downed power lines.

With less than $1 billion currently available for disaster relief, the Federal Emergency Management Agency decided to temporarily suspend payments to the southern states that were damaged during the spring by a series of tornadoes. Since the cost from Irene’s wind damage is expected to top $1 billion alone, the Obama administration will likely have to request supplemental funding from Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has already said that any new money for FEMA must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

Irene crossed the border into Canada on Aug. 28, dumping rain on Quebec and the Maritime provinces. As cleanup efforts begin along the East Coast, law enforcement agencies are warning people to be wary of fraudulent charitable donation scams that may pop up in the coming weeks.

[The Daily Mail]