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Hurricane Irene batters US infrastructure

Widespread road, rail, bridge and power infrastructure damage caused by this weekend’s Hurricane Irene was being tallied up today by US state governments including Vermont, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

State governments across the US east coast reported damaged bridges, undermined roads and slope failures. Power companies in some places were unable to access downed power lines and transformers until road damage is repaired, the Vermont government reported. Road infrastructure in many states was also harmed by the loss of traffic lights and signage, which were damaged or lost power due to the hurricane. Downed trees and other storm debris also covered roads across the coastal states.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) reported that over 260 roads and 30 highway bridges were closed in its state, and that rail lines sustained “major damage”. More than 40 major highways were closed in North Carolina. In New Jersey, railways were blocked by downed trees and several railway stations were flooded. In New York City, trees and power lines were downed by the hurricane, but transport infrastructure damage was minimal and the subway was operating on Monday morning. The District of Columbia suffered only “minor damages” to infrastructure.

Assessments of damage are continuing in many states, with some including North Carolina using aerial photography to inspect the damage. VTrans said it was rebuilding the roads that could be repaired “most quickly” and “establishing safe detours” around others. The Virginia Department of Transportation said it was focused on “removing debris, improving drainage, repairing roads and restoring traffic signals”.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation warned that surface water could cause further problems in the coming days. “Sometimes problems don’t appear until after the storm is gone and the sun is shining,” said the department. “For example, wind from a storm will sometimes drive surface water inland where it combines with rainfall runoff. The combination can overtax existing drainage structures and washout highway facilities.”

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