National Guard and firefighters rescued hundreds people from record flooding in New Jersey on Tuesday and Vermont planned to airlift food and water to inland towns cut off by Hurricane Irene after its paralyzing rampage through the U.S. northeast.

Irene killed about 40 people when it dumped 5 to 15 inches of rain over wide swathes of the U.S. East Coast on Saturday and Sunday. It spared New York City but caused the worst flooding in decades in inland areas of New York state, New Jersey and Vermont.

Search and rescue teams have plucked nearly 600 people from homes in recent days with the most intense efforts on Tuesday when the Passaic River measured 13 feet above flood stage, the highest level since 1903, Paterson police Sgt. Alex Popov said.

Firefighters rescued some by boat and the National Guard saved others by truck, taking them to a Red Cross shelter.

Some are standing there in the doorway. Some are coming out of their windows, Popov said.

It's raging, he said of the Passaic, which runs through the center of town.

Authorities expected the river to begin receding later on Tuesday.

Swollen rivers were still cresting on Tuesday and flood plains remained under water in northeastern states that were already soaked by an unusually wet summer.

Utilities restored electricity to roughly half the 6.7 million customers who had power knocked out, and New York City mass transit and air travel crept back to normal.

Irene hit North Carolina as a hurricane and moved north over major East Coast cities, then weakened to a tropical storm over New England and dissipated after tracking into Canada.

Clear skies in the northeast aided rescue efforts, but hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged, some swept away in the torrent.

In New York City's New Jersey suburbs, flood victims anxiously waited for waters to recede while just a few miles away the city buzzed anew, slowed only temporarily by an unprecedented preemptive shutdown of its mass transit system and an evacuation order on Saturday.

LOSSES FEARED IN FALL TOURIST SEASON

In Wayne, New Jersey, Mike Holland, 44, paddled his canoe away from his trailer home. The water was so deep that three cars were almost completely submerged on his street, which like several others resembled a small lake.

Holland said he was used to floods but that this is the worst one.

I had raised my trailer for the height of the 1984 flood plus 8 inches but this was the '84 flood plus 12. It's an easy fix but it's a pain, Holland said.

Marguerite Ball, another resident of Wayne, described the flooding as heartbreaking for the working class area.

I've never seen flooding like has taken place in the last few years, Ball said. People just get cleaned out, cleaned up, rebuild, and it happens again and again.

Vermonters already beaten down by the prolonged U.S. economic slump saw homes washed away by the floods, then were forced to cope with washed out roads that isolated rural communities and complicated recovery from the state's worst flooding in more than 80 years.

Economically, I'm devastated, said Betsey Reagan, owner of Dot's Diner in West Dover, Vermont. Who knows what is going to happen, how long it is going to take to take to get all this lost. We'll miss the foliage season, who knows what the winter is going to be like. Tourists can't come if the roads aren't open.

The timing of the storm, at the end of summer and before the Labor Day holiday weekend, was particularly troubling for businesses whose peak season comes in the fall and winter when visitors flock to see leaves turn colors and for skiing.

Some 260 Vermont roads remained closed and the state was beginning to deploy crews of workers, backed up by the National Guard, to repair them.

The state planned to distribute food and water to towns cut off from supplies due to road outages. In some cases those supplies would be airlifted in, said Mark Bosma, a spokesman for the Vermont Division of Emergency Management.

Irene killed at least 38 people in 11 states, in addition to three who died in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico when the storm was still in the Caribbean, authorities said.

Total economic damage could reach $20 billion, Standard & Poor's Senior Economist Beth Ann Bovino said. Hundreds of thousands of homes suffered damage, raising questions about how much would be covered by insurance as many homeowner policies do not cover flood damage.

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged aid for cash-strapped states and cities, but the federal money was not expected to cover all the costs for local jurisdictions already facing a fiscal crisis.