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Thursday, September 8, 2011

3 dead as remnants of Lee trigger historic flooding across Northeast

CNN iReporter Nick Bohacz of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, said flooded roads prevented him from getting to work.
Thousands of people were told to evacuate their homes Thursday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee moved across already sodden portions of the Northeast, triggering near-historic flooding and leaving at least three people dead.

In Luzerne County, in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania, between 65,000 and 70,000 people were ordered to leave their homes by Thursday afternoon as the Susquehanna River rose above flood stage, according to Emergency Management Coordinator Stephen Bekanich.

The county, which earlier said 100,000 to 125,000 residents were being evacuated, did recalculations and revised the number downward.

While Wilkes-Barre, in Luzerne County, was spared flooding as of late Thursday afternoon because of a 17-mile levee system, other communities not protected by the system were not so fortunate.

Heavy flooding was reported in West Pittston, Harding and Plymouth Township. "At this point, we haven't been able to assess that (flooding and damage) because the water is so high," Bekanich said.

Plymouth Township resident Francis Federici and his wife were forced to leave their home, which sat in 5-foot floodwaters.

"On a normal day, we love it here," he said. "There's nobody around us. We have a beautiful yard. We were fixing our home up."

As of 4 p.m. ET Thursday, the Susquehanna was at 37.96 feet near Wilkes-Barre. Flood stage is 22 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The valley has a levee system that tops out at 41 feet, and the river is projected to crest just shy of that Friday morning, near 40.7 feet, according to Drew McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wilkes-Barre mayor's office.

"The rise of the river is so tremendous, we put out a request to volunteers to assist in sandbagging operations," Bekanich said. An estimated 100 volunteers will fill out 5,000 bags for use around structures and railroad crossings near levees.

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"We're getting more and more alarmed as the day progresses," said Luzerne County Commissioner Maryanne Petrilla, who said the river is now forecast to crest between midnight Thursday and 2 a.m. Friday.

Shelter space for 4,100 was rapidly being filled, and the county was looking for more space, Petrilla told CNN.

The area from Ithaca to Syracuse to Utica, in New York, and from Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, to Monticello, in Pennsylvania, continues to experience major to record flooding, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.

A 71-year-old man died Wednesday night in Derry Township, Pennsylvania, as he was bailing water out of the basement of his home and the walls of the structure caved in, said Chief Patrick O'Rourke of Derry Township Police.

A second person drowned early Thursday near Brickerville in Lancaster County, CNN affiliate WGAL-TV reported.

A third person died about 4:30 a.m. Thursday in North Lebanon Township, Pennsylvania, police said. A motorist became stranded in high water and was outside the vehicle when struck by another vehicle, which then left the scene. The suspect and that vehicle were found, authorities said.

About 75 miles away, Little Fishing Creek overflowed its banks and flooded several homes and businesses in the Millville area.

"It came quick," resident Corey Sweeney told CNN affiliate WBRE-TV. "I knew it was going to flood, but I didn't expect it to come up this far. I looked at it this morning, and it was rising about 6 to 7 inches every 20 minutes."

Many recalled the flooding caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. That storm dumped as much as 18 inches of rain on the area in two days, destroying more than 68,000 homes and 3,000 businesses and leaving 220,000 Pennsylvanians homeless.

"We're losing propane, the basement's flooding, the creek's coming over. I've never seen it this bad," John Kelly of Millville told WBRE.

In Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, CNN iReporter Nick Bohacz said flooded roads prevented him from getting to work. Bohacz, who sent in several photos of the flooding, said he saw a line of people outside a hardware store waiting for supplies.

Portions of Interstate 80 were closed until further notice, WBRE said.

The rising Susquehanna and Chenango rivers were also triggering evacuations in upstate New York, where evacuation orders were issued for portions of Binghamton and the towns of Conklin, Endicott, Johnson City, Union and Vestal, according to CNN affiliate YNN-TV. Numerous cities and counties declared a state of emergency.

Video from Johnson City showed a flooded shopping mall and a football field with water nearly up to its goalposts.

"This is a major flooding situation," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference. "This is nothing to trifle with." He said he believes flooding will reach historic levels. "By the time it looks that bad, you won't be able to leave," he said.

Water was coming over the floodwalls in Binghamton, county spokeswoman Colleen Wagner said. About 20,000 people have been ordered to evacuate, and about 1,400 were in shelters, she said. A number of boat rescues have taken place, she said, but she did not know how many. The Susquehanna and Chenango rivers are expected to crest later Thursday, she said.

Broome County Emergency Services Director Brett Chellis urged people in the evacuation areas to leave. Water was topping flood walls in Union and Vestal as well as Binghamton, he said.

In Otego, New York, about 50 miles northeast of Binghamton, CNN iReporter Don Wyckoff captured footage of water cascading down a road. Wyckoff said he was stunned after watching neighbors and family members lose their homes to the floodwaters.

"You are seeing the tiny mill creek rip out culvert pipes and tearing away roads," he said. "We never thought we would see this again. It happened in 2006, but it is worse now."

Mandatory evacuations were also in place for low-lying areas near Schenectady, New York, YNN said. In neighboring Montgomery County, authorities closed all roads and county buildings until further notice, saying only emergency vehicles would be allowed to travel. The New York State Thruway Authority said exit ramps at Fonda-Fultonville were closed, the station reported.

CNN iReporter Melissa Mogensen shot photos and a video of Steele Creek in Ilion, New York. "It's usually like a babbling brook," she said. "You can usually see the bottom. Now it's like chocolate milk, and it's still raging."

She said she lives right by the creek and her basement is flooded with waist-deep water -- deeper than it got during flooding from Hurricane Irene two weeks ago. Still, she said, officials trying to keep the creek from overflowing its banks are doing " a pretty good job."

In Maryland, areas near Baltimore were also affected. High water blocked dozens of roads in Baltimore County, according to CNN affiliate WMAR-TV.

"I've never seen anything like this in my life. It's pretty scary," Lisa Pucci of Parkton, Maryland, told the station. "It was all the way up to the steps here. It was like a raging river in the parking lot, and there was somebody canoeing out back on the street."

Port Deposit, Maryland, about 45 miles northeast of Baltimore along the Susquehanna, ordered an evacuation of the town's 800 residents by 8 p.m. Thursday.

In Catonsville, Maryland, a swift-water rescue crew had to be rescued Wednesday after becoming trapped during an operation, WMAR said. The crews were attempting to perform a rescue when they were swept away. Six firefighters were rescued. Numerous vehicles were reported stranded in high water in the area.

The Prince George's County, Maryland, Fire and EMS Department said it was responding to numerous emergency calls, and nearly two dozen people had been rescued or helped by firefighters and the department's swift water team.

Because the system is slow-moving, "I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better," CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano said.

Several rounds of heavy rain are in store for much of the region the next couple of days, with an additional 2 to 6 inches forecast -- and in isolated cases as much as 10 inches, according to the National Weather Service. But as of Thursday morning, some areas had already received nearly that much, Marciano said.

The rain comes on top of the heavy precipitation that has fallen in the region from Irene. What's left of Lee has stalled across the central Appalachian Mountains.

Weather conditions caused flight delays in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey, on Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.

Rainfall totals through 5 a.m. Thursday included 7.3 inches at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland; 8.4 inches in Rockaway, New Jersey; 9.2 inches in Binghamton; 12.8 inches in Middletown, Pennsylvania; 11.7 inches in Indiantown, Pennsylvania; and 10.9 inches in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, according to the National Weather Service's Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.

Lee left at least four people dead in the Southeast, dumping as much as 12 to 15 inches of rain in many places

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