Along Irenes path, the death toll was expected to increase, but authorities said it could have been much worse. The evacuation of at least 2.3 million coastal residents and other precautions "dramatically reduced risk to life," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, downplayed suggestions that the government had overreacted. Weather forecasts, by their very nature, rarely prove 100 percent accurate and the prudent step is to prepare for the worst, he and other experts said.
Whenever lives are lost, Fugate said, it cannot be said that the nation "dodged a bullet." He noted that, though only 25 percent of evacuations prove necessary, its that 25 percent that saves lives.
He also urged people to donate to the charities that help shoulder the burden of feeding and housing evacuees during storms, including the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. "They were prepared from North Carolina to Maine for what might happen," Fugate said.
Joseph Bruno, New York City's emergency management commissioner, agreed that the preparations were necessary, proper and effective.
"The people in our city listened to our mayor," Bruno told CNN. "He said evacuate, and they did. To me, this is a very important part of this people complied with the mayor. They're very knowledgeable now...they know Mother Nature can be very cruel."
In Philadelphia, residents awakened to a quiet calm after a night of high wind and driving rain. Mayor Michael Nutter lifted a state of emergency, the city's first in 25 years. The region's transit system resumed limited service.
Nearly 600,000 customers in the Philadelphia region, including parts of southern New Jersey, lost power. Service was restored by Sunday evening to about half of those customers, but utility officials said it could take up to two weeks before everyone came back on line.
"This is one of the worst storm events that has hit Philadelphia in the last 50 years," Nutter said.
Throughout the region, post-storm power outages remained one of the most significant challenges.
At one point Sunday, about 194,000 customers of the Washington D.C.-area utility were without power, down from 220,000 power-challenged customers earlier during the storm. More than 300 power lines were down in the District of Columbia and in Montgomery County and Prince Georges County in adjacent Maryland.
Outages were worse in North Carolina and Virginia, where Dominion Power was working to return service to 1.2 million customers. The outages were the company's second-largest, shadowed only by those inflicted by Hurricane Isabel.
After striking North Carolina, Irene lost some of its intensity as it prowled the coast, steadily accelerating its forward speed. Lower winds and faster passage tend to diminish the magnitude of coastal flooding.
Meteorologists said Irenes core made a second landfall near Little Egg Inlet, N.J., north of Atlantic City, at 5:35 a.m. Sunday, as a minimal Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph sustained wind. It weakened slightly into a high-end tropical storm as the center reached Coney Island, in the New York borough of Brooklyn, at 9 a.m., with 65 mph wind.
Irenes course carried the center right along New Jerseys coast, through New York City and then into Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and points north. At times, tornado warnings flashed through the region. As the storm arrived, Manhattans usually busy streets were eerily empty, few people in sight, the entire city pounded by gray sheets of rain and bursts of wind that swirled around tall buildings and sought routes of escape. Rising water blocked several roads and intersections.