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Hurricane Irene leaves 7 dead in flooded New Jersey

By Christine Kearney

FAIRFIELD, New Jersey (Reuters) - Raging waterways caused dramatic flooding on Monday across New Jersey, as the state's death toll rose to seven as rivers and creeks rose from the force of Hurricane Irene.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management said the state had registered seven deaths related to Irene.

"We have seven confirmed," a spokeswoman told Reuters on Monday.

The bodies of two men were found floating in water on the shoreline of Ocean County on Monday, officials said. Other deaths included a 21-year old woman who drowned when swept away by water and a 39-year old volunteer rescue worker who drowned investigating a submerged vehicle.

Nine river locations hit or surpassed record flooding levels, Governor Chris Christie said at a media briefing.

"We are seeing record flooding levels across the northern part of our state," he said. "We are not out of the woods yet regarding this storm."

In Morris County, in the state's northern region, the Pompton, Pequannock and Passaic rivers are "well above flood stage," pouring water into the towns of Pequannock, Parsippany, Denville and Long Hill, said County Emergency Coordinator Scott DiGiralomo.

Several rivers have not yet crested, he said.

"We're going to have historic flooding," he said. "Some won't crest until tomorrow morning."

St. Clare's Hospital in Denville was surrounded by flood water but remained open to care for patients, with National Guard troops shuttling staff and supplies using high-water vehicles.

Fairfield, a town 25 miles west of New York City that is surrounded on three sides by the curving Passaic River, was in danger of becoming an island, said Armando Fontoura, the Essex County sheriff and the county emergency management coordinator.

Surging from Sunday's powerful hurricane, the Passaic was swelling and had not yet crested, he said.

"The worst is yet to come for us," Fontoura said. "This is going to be very, very bad for the next couple of days. You are not going to be able to get in or get out."

The river could rise as high as 23.6 feet, said Fairfield Deputy Police Chief Anthony Manna, breaking the record of 23.2 feet set in 1903 and topping a more recent high of 22.9 in 1984.

Firefighters pulled two unidentified teens from the raging Whippany River, in the town of Whippany, late on Sunday, said Deputy Fire Chief Randy Polo.

CLINGING TO LOG, LIMB

Dumped from a raft at a man-made waterfall in the river, one teen was clinging to a log, and the other to a broken tree limb in the thundering current, he said. The rescue took about an hour, he said.

"They were grateful, to say the least," Polo said.

State utility PSE&G said power had been restored to more than 512,000 customers, while about 188,000 remained without power. It said the outages cause by Hurricane Irene were the worst in company history.

Around Fairfield and neighboring Wayne, the water flooded homes and streets. Some residents waded into the chest-high water, others paddled canoes and still others sat on their stoops watching the water rise.

"This is the worst flood we have ever had," said Mike Chiafulio, 52, outside his mother's house. "I imagine it's going to flood our first floor."

Locals fled to motels, including Gail Dupas, 36, of nearby Little Falls, who left home on Friday ahead of the hurricane.

"It's devastating. You have to grab what you can, anything that's irreplaceable," she said.

Strewn with fallen trees, Maplewood was filled with the sound of pumps and generators as residents drained water from their homes.

"We've had major rains before, but we've never had flooding like this," said Ben Cohen, a retired judge. "I can only vouch for the last 38 years but nothing even can come close to this."

Alex Adams, who works in real estate development, said he was relieved when a fire truck arrived to pump out his basement.

ELECTROCUTION CONCERNS

"We were most concerned about getting electrocuted," Adams said. "My wife and I were in there, pulling out everything, when we realized water was over the outlets."

In Millburn and Short Hills, an overflowing Millburn River damaged a water treatment facility that serves about 45,000 customers in Millburn, Maplewood, West Orange and Irvington.

The company told customers to boil their water before using it, although many residents said they were getting little or no water in their pipes at all.

Further south, seaside towns were coming back to life after mandatory evacuations over the weekend.

Christie said some beaches suffered minor erosion but others suffered no erosion at all.

"Our beaches are in good shape," he said.

Atlantic City casinos were allowed to reopen at noon on Monday.

Caesars Entertainment Corp, which includes the hotels and casinos of Caesars, Harrah's, Bally's and Showboat in Atlantic City, was still calculating how much the storm cost in lost revenue, said spokeswoman Jennifer Weissman.

"Having to close our casinos the weekend before Labor Day in Atlantic City is significant to our business," she said. "However, we are fully expecting a very successful Labor Day weekend."

(Additional reporting by Grant McCool in Maplewood, Dave Warner in Philadelphia, Matthew Goldstein in Millburn and Beth Gladstone in Atlantic City; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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