Hours after Hurricane (or Tropical Storm, depending on your location) Irene hit New York, the worst appears to be over: NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the 370,000 residents he ordered to evacuate from their homes in low-lying parts of the city can now return. Some people had already begun making their way back early, and others never left to begin with, the AP notes. Though water submerged parts of a Manhattan promenade and a marina in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange, and some floodwater reached the streets of Manhattan and Queens, some cabbies continued offering taxi service and the city escaped the widespread damage it had feared. The evacuation orders for Atlantic City and other parts of the New Jersey shore, Delaware, and parts of Virginia and Maryland were also being lifted today.
The worst of the storm has passed in most areas, though transit and electricity are still affected in many areas, and Irene is expected to reach eastern Canada by tonight. In North Carolina, where it first made landfall yesterday, damage was also surprisingly light in many areas, though two piers were destroyed. In Virginia, a meteorologist says "it certainly could have turned out worse" for his area. In DC, the new MLK Memorial took on some water but was not damaged, and the Washington Monument suffered no additional damage. Economic damages are also less than expected: about $2 billion to $3 billion in insured damage and $7 billion in total losses, according to one estimate. But flooding is still a possibility due to runoff over the next few days, and at least 16 deaths have been reported; the AP has details on 15 of them as well as state-by-state details of damages. (Read more hurricane stories.)