NEW YORK, NY. (NEWS1130) - Power is slowly returning for hundreds of thousands of people after hurricane Irene slammed into the eastern seaboard.  Luckily for many people, Irene lost its punch and was downgraded to a tropical storm early this morning.

The weather system knocked out power for nearly 4.5 million people and it has been responsible for at least 21 deaths in several states. Preliminary estimates put total losses around $7 billion, but that’s less that was feared.

CNN‘s Ali Velshi was in Lower Manhattan when he spoke live with News1130 earlier.  He describes the streets of New York as a movie set. 

“I have never in my entire time here seen the place so empty, just some police cars,” he says. “People generally heeded the warnings to stay inside.”

He explains much of the hype surrounding the damage New York was supposed to endure, never materialized. 

“We are done with it.  In fact, there was a lot of damage to Long Island, a lot of damage to the coastal areas in New Jersey and it’s headed up the coast. This isn’t over yet, it just happened to give New York a very glancing blow, but it’s still a very, very serious storm.”

Velshi says things on Wall Street in the financial district may be delayed on Monday because there is no mass transit running yet.

Canadian cities lashed by heavy rains

The tropical is giving eastern Canada a thorough drenching this evening and has caused some power outages in Quebec.

Hydro Quebec says roughly 180,000 customers are without power, mostly in the Montreal area.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre in Halifax says Irene still has sustained winds of 95 kilometres an hour.

Up to 100 millimetres of rain are in the forecast for parts of Quebec and northwestern New Brunswick.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre is warning of potential flooding caused by storm surges around Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and along the Bay of Fundy.

Jennifer Casey with our Halifax station News 95.7 says they’ve dealt with Category 3 hurricanes before.

“All the provincial parks have been closed.  We’re getting the warnings from the RCMP saying, ‘Stay away from the coastline.’”

She says heavy rains have already started and they’re expecting winds of up to 100 kilometres.  No evacuation notices have been issued for the area yet.

Flight delays

At the Vancouver Airport a Cathay Pacific flight was scheduled to depart for JFK at 10:50 p.m. Passengers were advised to check with their carriers to confirm travel plans.

Flights are resuming with minimal delays at Washington-area airports, which took a slight blow from Hurricane Irene.

New York-area airports remain closed as the storm passed over the nation’s busiest air-traffic region.  The longer that Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark, New Jersey, airports remain closed, the worse it will be as travel tie-ups ripple across the US.

There is no word when the airports will re-open and airlines have already cancelled thousands of flights today.