By Scott Malone
LUDLOW, Vermont (Reuters) - Residents of several Northeast states approached the Labor Day holiday weekend mired in mud and stuck in the dark on Thursday nearly a week after Hurricane Irene swallowed parts of the region with flooding.
About 1.1 million homes and businesses on the East Coast were still without electricity after Irene knocked out power to more than 6.7 million customers on its rampage last Saturday and Sunday.
The upcoming long weekend, normally a celebration of the end of summer, will be a wet, stinky mess for hundreds of thousands of homeowners who suffered damage, their cities and towns submerged under floodwaters in states such as New York, New Jersey and Vermont.
Hundreds of people were rescued in Paterson, New Jersey, one of several New York City suburbs that were under water while the city itself went relatively unscathed some 20 miles away.
In Vermont, the National Guard airlifted food and water to towns cut off by storm-damaged highways. Upstate New York saw rural mountain resorts flooded, ruining business for the holiday weekend.
"Everything smells like sewer because the water got up so high. It stinks so bad," Melody Hawkins, 55, said as she sat on the stoop of her home in Ludlow, one of more than a dozen towns in Vermont -- an inland state normally protected from tropical storms -- to face severe flooding.
"The thing that gets me is the dust. Look at the cars, they're all covered, and people still go barreling down the street, kicking it up," Hawkins said.
Lu Ann Wetherby, 67, said she had spent the past few days trying to clean the mud out of her basement.
"The mud. There's so much mud," Wetherby said. "We lost everything in the basement, all our Christmas decorations. Some of them went back 60 years."
The weather was clear on Thursday, sparing the recovery efforts from more rain after an exceedingly wet summer.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was running low on disaster relief funds, forcing it to suspend spending on long-term projects. FEMA officials said they would keep processing claims from states and individuals seeking reimbursement for uninsured disaster damage.
But with $800 million left in the fund and potentially billions of dollars in damage claims to come in, the U.S. Congress at some point will have to appropriate more money at a time of epic budget battles over taxation and federal spending.
"We expect that to be resolved as we get additional funding and as we go into our next fiscal year," FEMA chief Craig Fugate told reporters in New York.
"My sense has been America always comes to America's needs and disasters," he said.
Connecticut has been the slowest of all the states affected by Hurricane Irene to restore power to customers.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Connecticut and Pennsylvania each had more than 700,000 households and businesses without power, representing 43.5 percent and 18 percent of all customers respectively, according to the Department of Energy.
While Pennsylvania had restored power to all but 39,458 customers, or 1 percent of households, more than 250,000 were still without power in Connecticut, or 16 percent of all households and businesses.
Connecticut Light & Power, the largest electricity provider in the state, said on its website it was bringing in additional workers to help restore power, with the number of line and tree crews working in the state expected to increase to 1,200 by Friday from 900 on Wednesday.
"We've made good progress today working with the state and towns and realize there's still a lot of work to be done," CL&P President Jeff Butler said a statement. "We understand how difficult the loss of power is on all our customers and appreciate their patience."
The priority would be restoring power to schools, waste water treatment plants, communication facilities and other town priorities, Butler said.
(Additional reporting by David Sheppard and Paula Rogo in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Peter Cooney)