KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. — From North Carolina to Pennsylvania, Hurricane Irene appeared to have fallen short of the doomsday predictions. But with rivers still rising and roads impassable because of high water and fallen trees, it could be days before the full extent of the damage is known.
More than 4.5 million homes and businesses along the East Coast lost power, and at least nine deaths were blamed on the storm. But as day broke Sunday, light damage was reported in many places, with little more than downed trees and power lines.
"I think it's a little strong to say we dodged a bullet. However, it certainly could have turned out worse for the Hampton Roads area" in Virginia, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Montefusco.
At the same time, officials warned of the possibility of severe flooding over the next few days as runoff from the storm makes its way into creeks and rivers. In some parts of the Northeast, the ground was soggy even before the storm because of an extremely rainy August.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said, "The rivers may not crest until Tuesday or Wednesday. This isn't just a 24-hour event."
Irene's storm surge and heavy rain of six inches to a foot in many places triggered flooding along much of the East Coast. The storm was still pummeling the Northeast on Sunday morning, dropping below hurricane strength but still dangerous with 65 mph winds and heavy downpours.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had initially warned that Irene could be a "catastrophic" monster with record storm surges of up to 8 feet.
But in Virginia Beach, the city posted on Twitter late Saturday that initial reports were promising, with the resort area suffering minimal damage. And in Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan reported, "Scattered power outages. No reports of major damage!"
In Lusby, Md., Constellation Energy Nuclear Group said one of two nuclear reactors at Calvert Cliffs went off-line automatically because of Irene's winds. Constellation said the plant was safe.
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said Irene inflicted significant damage along her state's coast but that the full extent was unclear because some areas were unreachable due to high water or downed power lines.
Perdue planned an aerial tour Sunday of the hardest-hit counties after TV coverage showed downed trees, toppled utility poles and power lines and mangled awnings.
Officials in North Carolina's Dare County said they were advised there was extensive flooding that needed to be checked out.
Elsewhere, authorities suggested Irene didn't create the kind of havoc that had been anticipated.
"We were prepared for a lot worse, but we got lucky on this one," said Bruce Shell, New Hanover County, N.C., manager.
He said many of the 70,000 homes that lost power Saturday were back online in the evening, and a wastewater spill at Wrightsville Beach appeared to be minor.
Pinehurst dentist Harwell Palmer said his home in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., lost a few pieces of siding, and there was some street flooding, but a pier that took a pounding from the waves was still standing. The storm did gobble up some of the sand.
"The main concern we will have going forward is the loss of beach," he said.
The question still facing the region is whether Irene's effects over the next few days will match the mess left behind by such storms as Floyd and Isabel.
In 1999, Floyd dropped at least 15 inches of rain on eastern North Carolina. The flooding was the most damaging in the state's history, topping $3 billion in North Carolina. Four years later, Isabel brought hurricane conditions to eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia, causing about $1 billion in damage.
In Ocean City, Md., Charlie Koetzle stayed throughout the storm. He was up at 4 a.m., walking on the city's boardwalk, and said by phone that he saw at least one sign that had been blown down but that the pier was still intact.
"The beach is still here, and there is lots of it," he said.