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Officials call for mandatory evacuation of over 100,000 people in northeastern Pa. over floods
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) ' Officials in northeastern Pennsylvania called for a mandatory evacuation of more than 100,000 residents living along the Susquehanna River on Thursday due to expected flooding. The area was inundated in the historic Agnes flood of 1972.
Luzerne County Management Agency official Frank Lasiewicki told The Associated Press Thursday the river is projected to crest at 41 feet between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday ' the same height as the levee system protecting riverfront communities including Wilkes-Barre and Kingston.
Residents were ordered to leave by 4 p.m.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said residents should prepare for an extended evacuation of 72 hours and advised them to take clothing, food and prescription medicine. He also asked city businesses to close their doors by noon.
The evacuations come as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped heavy rain and caused havoc around the Northeast on Thursday, bringing floods that cut off major highways and caused some schools to open late or not at all.
Flood watches and warnings were in effect from Maryland to New England.
Roads and highways were closed around the region. In Philadelphia, flooding and a rock slide closed the eastbound lanes of the Schuylkill Expressway, a major artery into the city, and it could take hours for the road to reopen. In New York, the Thruway Authority expected Thursday to close a 105-mile stretch of Interstate 90 where it runs along the Mohawk River, which had overflowed its banks in some areas. It's the state's most heavily traveled east-west highway.
In eastern New York, thousands of people were expected to evacuate the flood-battered Binghamton area Thursday, and some schools were closed in the surrounding area.
Emergency management officials in Broome County ordered additional evacuations early Thursday for Binghamton neighborhoods near where the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers converge. Mandatory evacuation orders were also issued for the neighboring villages. In all, some 10,000 residents in the county were under mandatory evacuation, officials said.
Two rain-related deaths were reported in Pennsylvania. Police in Derry Township said a man who was removing water from his basement was killed when the house's foundation collapsed, and a motorist trapped in a vehicle drowned early Thursday morning in Elizabeth Township, in Lancaster County.
"Now it's getting on my last nerves," said Carol Slater, 53, of Huntersfield, N.Y., on the northern edge of New York's Catskill Mountains and just outside of hard-hit Prattsville.
The National Weather Service predicted rain would continue to fall heavily across the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states through Thursday with anywhere from 4 to 7 more inches falling and up to 10 inches in isolated pockets.
In Pennsylvania, rain set off flash flooding across a wide swath of the state, shutting down roads, closing some schools and forcing evacuations.
"The same areas are getting hit repeatedly," by rain, said Larry Nierenberg, a national weather service spokesman who monitors an area that includes Greater Philadelphia and most of New Jersey.
A bridge spanning the Delaware River between New Hope, Bucks County and Lambertville, N.J., closed Thursday morning after flood waters carried debris down river and into the first span.
In New York, Prattsville was cut off on Wednesday afternoon, its main roads covered with water as public works crews tried to dredge the creeks to alleviate the flooding. Trash bins stood in the mud-caked streets to collect debris left by Irene and the wreckage of houses destroyed by the earlier storm still dotted the area.
Heavy rain fell, and residents were ready to evacuate as the Schoharie Creek escaped its banks and smaller streams showed significant flooding.
"Businesses and residential areas were devastated before," Wayne Speenburgh, chairman of the Greene County Legislature, said of Prattsville. "Downtown, there's nobody living because there's no homes to live in."
In nearby Middleburgh, dozens of residents were evacuated from temporary shelters set up in schools, many for the third time since Irene hit. Many businesses remained empty but were adorned with hopeful signs ' like the one at Hubie's Pizzeria ' that they would reopen.
Flooding also led to voluntary evacuations in the Catskills town of Shandaken, Rotterdam Junction near Albany, and a section of Schenectady along the Mohawk River. Some schools in the Hudson Valley north of New York City closed or delayed start times.
Patrick Darling said he and wife Dawn are trying to keep their sense of humor while dealing with a second week of flooding.
"We have stress, lots of stress," he said after using shovels to clear mud and debris from his neighbors' homes. "We've been shoveling our stress out."
Lee formed just off the Louisiana coast late last week and gained strength as it lingered in the Gulf for a couple of days. It dumped more than a foot of rain in New Orleans and trudged across Mississippi and Alabama.
Tornadoes spawned by Lee damaged hundreds of homes, and flooding knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people. Trees were uprooted and roads were flooded. Winds fanned wildfires in Louisiana and Texas, and the storm even kicked up tar balls on the Gulf Coast.
At least four people died.
A flood watch was in effect through Thursday afternoon in soggy Vermont but officials on Thursday said that rain has caused only minor problems in the state. Parts of the state are still recovering from flooding from the remnants of Irene, which was a tropical storm by the time it swept over the area.
Irene hit upstate New York and Vermont particularly hard, with at least 12 deaths in those areas and dozens of highways damaged or washed out. Several communities in Vermont were cut off entirely and required National Guard airdrops to get supplies.
In New Jersey, where many residents were still cleaning up after Irene, the remnants of Lee were expected to drop anywhere from 2 to 5 inches of rain. There was some flooding along rivers including the Passaic, which breached its banks during Irene and caused serious damage. Heavier flooding is expected Thursday.
Meanwhile, in the open Atlantic, Hurricane Katia brought rough surf to the East Coast but was not expected to make landfall in the U.S. Tropical Storm Maria also formed Wednesday far out in the Atlantic, but it was too soon to tell if and where it might make landfall.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Michael Hill and Rik Stevens in Albany, N.Y.; John Curran in Montpelier, Vt.; Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa.; Bill Poovey in Chattanooga and Alex Dominguez in Baltimore.