By Joan Gralla
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Both New York and New Jersey have formally asked the federal government for an "expedited major disaster declaration" to cope with the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irene, officials said on Tuesday.
The neighboring Northeastern states are still coping with possible hazards, from flooding rivers to power outages, which are keeping first responders busy and delaying damage estimates.
Some roads and bridges are still closed in both states. In New York, much of the worst damage occurred upstate and in its suburbs where schools, wells and sewage systems were damaged.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday said at least 26 counties are still devastated. Several dams are being monitored as waters rise and two of them -- the Gilboa part of the Catskills water system and the Vischers Ferry Dam in Saratoga County -- were previously considered close to failure.
At several of the state's farms, the large number of dead livestock could become a health hazard if not dealt with. Cattle, horses, pigs and other animals might die if many farms are not resupplied.
Wall Street, a regional economic engine, got off lightly when compared with some flood-stricken states, especially Vermont.
New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie said nearly 16,000 people in the state were forced to seek shelter in 16 counties there, while more than 700,000 residents were hit with power outages.
"Hurricane Irene was a catastrophe of enormous severity and magnitude, Christie said, adding: "Torrential rains have caused significant flooding in areas across the state, impacting residences, major and local roads, and necessitating highway closures and a suspension of rail services."
At least 74,000 in New Jersey are "still impacted," according to a statement from utility Public Service Electric & Gas.
The federal government gives states the option of seeking special, stepped-up assistance once certain triggers are hit, according to Mary Goepfert, a spokeswoman for the Office of Emergency Management.
The first damage reports can lack a pricetag.
"It's based on the amounts of property (damaged) and the issues at hand," she said.
In New York, about 4,800 people are estimated to still be in hurricane shelters, but some have been cut off by flood waters and cannot be resupplied with food and water.
The New York counties Cuomo wants federal aid for are: Albany, Bronx, Clinton, Columbia, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Greene, Kings, Montgomery, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Rensselaer, Richmond, Rockland, Schenectady, Schoharie, Suffolk, Sullivan, Ulster, Warren, Washington and Westchester.