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Relieved Delaware lifts Irene evacuation orders, travel bans

People walk through flooded streets after the pass of Hurricane Irene at Hoboken
People walk through flooded streets after the pass of Hurricane Irene at Hoboken

By Tom Hals

DEWEY BEACH, Delaware (Reuters) - Mandatory evacuation and travel restrictions were lifted in Delaware on Sunday as the coastal state dodged the worst of Hurricane Irene.

Businesses began to reopen and residents emerged to survey what the storm, which hit early on Sunday, left behind.

"Not even a broken window," said Wendy Carr, 52, owner of the Two Seas restaurant in Dewey Beach.

Carr said she was exhausted after a day of filling sandbags and a sleepless night on flood watch. She said she had exchanged dozens of text messages with local residents, seeking damage reports.

Governor Jack Markell lifted the evacuation orders issued on Saturday that affected state residents within three-quarters of a mile of a major waterway. He also lifted a travel ban that restricted all but emergency vehicles from the roads.

However, some roads were closed due to downed trees and flooding, and some communities along the Delaware Bay were inaccessible due to flood waters, the governor's office said.

Water levels on the Delaware River were high, prompting official flood warnings as far as 80 miles upriver in Easton, Pennsylvania, and Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

Delmarva, which provides power to Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, said 25 percent of its customers -- 121,000 out of 498,000 -- were suffering power outages.

In Dewey Beach, E.J. Shindledecker, owner of Sharky's Grill, a popular spot for local residents, breathed a sigh of relief.

"I sweated blood," the restaurant owner said. "You can be homeless and broke in one afternoon."

In nearby Lewes, officials reported a tornado damaged 15 homes, but no one was injured.

Streets in and around Dewey Beach were strewn with tree branches. The beach dunes, which had been built up artificially and planted with long grasses to limit storm damage, were badly eroded but in general there was no sign of significant damage.

"The science works," said Tom Mullen, 61, of Seaford, Delaware, as he surveyed the scene.

Overnight, Carr said there were two inches of water across the town, a three-block stretch of sand separating the Atlantic Ocean from Rehoboth Bay.

Most nor'easters deliver a bigger punch, she said.

"I guarantee the plywood will be coming off this afternoon," she said of the town's boarded-up buildings.

(Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Editing by Peter Bohan)

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