Nine dead as rain causes floods in eastern US
PHILADELPHIA, June 28 : The worst flooding in the eastern United States for decades, triggered by days of torrential downpours, has killed at least nine people and forced thousands to flee their homes.
With roads washed out and waters rising, authorities on Wednesday declared emergencies across large swathes of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Travel along the heavily trafficked Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to New York was hard-hit.
Up to 200,000 people in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and the surrounding area were ordered to evacuate their homes by Wednesday night as the Susquehanna River rose to dangerous levels, a local official said.
County authorities took the measure as a precaution as the river neared a 41-foot (12.4-metre) flood stage level that threatened to put unprecedented strain on the area's flood control system.
The US Coast Guard used helicopters to rescue up to 70 people stranded on rooftops in the city, which had not seen a similar emergency since 1972 when a tropical storm swept through the area killing six people and damaging or destroying thousands of homes.
The National Weather Service reported nine fatalities across the eastern United States. New York Gov. George Pataki said it was by far the worst flooding he had seen in 12 years as governor.
''We have a very dangerous situation on our hands,'' said Brian Hughes, county executive of Mercer County, New Jersey, which includes the state capital of Trenton.
''This is is a very low-lying area that has flooded in the past. The afternoon commute ... is already devastating. This is going to be the largest flood we've had maybe since 1955.'' Major rivers across the region were threatening to crest at dramatic levels: --In Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River could rise to its highest level in 125 years, the National Weather Service warned, to a crest of 14.5 feet (4.4 metres) by Thursday.
--The Delaware River, which separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania, was rising rapidly and surpassed 14 feet (4.3 metres) by mid-morning. Authorities closed several bridges and urged locals in towns such as New Hope, Pennsylvania, that waters could rise as high as 21 feet (6.4 metres).
--Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River was expected to crest between 36 and 38 feet (11-11.5 metres) early Thursday, just a few feet below its 41-foot (12.5 metres) levees.
--Further south, at Trenton, the Delaware was expected to rise another eight feet (2.4 metres) to crest at 28 feet (8.5 metres) by Thursday.
Evacuations were imposed in parts of Pennsylvania, while some 500 people were ordered to leave Montgomery County, Maryland, the Weather Service said, due to the potential failure of an earthen dam on Lake Needwood.
Workers hastily piled sandbags along parts of the damn at Lake Needwood, which lies on Rock Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River that flows through Washington, D.C.
The rising waters threatened Manayunk, a Philadelphia suburb, where residents were asked to leave when the Schuylkill River overflowed its banks.
''People are being asked to seek higher ground right now,'' said Ted Qualli, a spokesman for Philadelphia's mayor.
In the last 24 hours, four to eight inches (10-20 cm) of rain fell in areas of Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and Delaware, and up to 12 inches (30 cm) fell in areas of Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania, according to the National Weather Service.
Heavy rains have deluged much of the northeastern United States since Friday.
Among the fatalities, three people drowned in western Maryland, trying to ford a flood in their car, and two teenagers from Keymar, Maryland, were missing and feared swept away in a flood.
Three people died in flood-related car accidents in central New York, said State Police Lt. Robert Galletto said. Two truckers were killed on Interstate 99 in Sidney, New York, early in the morning when their rigs fell into an enormous sinkhole, he said.
A motorist died in Holmesville, New York, after swerving into a ravine while trying to avoid a washed-out road, he said.
In Wayne County, Pennsylvania, officials confirmed one flood-related death and were looking into a report of another.