As officials in cities and towns all along the Eastern seaboard continue to assess their losses from Hurricane Irene, many are thankful that at least the loss of life was kept low thanks in great part to the pre-storm warnings and evacuations.

As of this morning, at least 40 people have died across 11 states. What we must realize is that the effects of the massive storm system are still playing out with many waterways still at dangerous levels. An estimated 5 million homes and businesses in a dozen states were still without electricity this morning, and utilities are warning that it might be a week or more before some people get their power back.

The course of Hurricane Irene was well plotted by weather experts but for many of us, she still landed a number of surprise punches, especially in New England.

Many in eastern Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region breathed a sigh of relief Sunday afternoon at being spared the kind of devastation coastal residents were experiencing. At that point, we thought the hurricane would continue losing strength as it proceeded through New England.

Unfortunately, Irene proved no area would be immune to her cruelties, even a seemingly "safe" northeastern state like Vermont. Yet we now know that flooding there is the worst in that state in a century. Whole communities have been cut off, hundreds of roads are closed, at least a dozen bridges have washed away and thousands are without power.

In many ways, Vermont's rugged terrain resembles the mountainous areas of our region. Tourism is the state's major industry and it is famous for its ski areas.

It is also a state rich in colonial and Revolutionary War history. One dramatic video clip we saw that hits home shows a historic covered bridge being swallowed up and swept away by raging floodwaters.

Still, the loss of life in Vermont, as in our state and others in the East, has thankfully been low. Deaths were random and unpredictable. In Vermont, the supervisor of a water treatment plant became a victim while checking on a water system. His 24-year old son is still missing. Another victim was a woman who fell in while watching the flooding.

One common refrain we're continuously hearing from the survivors in Vermont, as well as others now trying to climb back from the devastation they've suffered, is that things are replaceable but lives are not.

In that respect, many of us can count our blessings.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tninline.com