Flooding causes Pennsylvania, N.Y. evacuations as Tropical Storm Lee hits Northeast

September 8, 2011

Remnants of Tropical Storm Lee hit the Northeast today, spreading rains across the region and causing road closures, flooding and even forcing the evacuation of 100,000 in Pennsylvania. As the Washington Post Staff reported:

Torrential rains across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast triggered flood warnings Thursday that forced authorities to order the evacuation of nearly 100,000 people and close numerous roads, bridges and schools.

With the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee continuing to dump rain on the region, the National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for parts of the East Coast from Virginia and Maryland to New York.

Among those ordered to flee their homes were residents along the rapidly rising Susquehanna River, which broke a flood record at Binghamton, N.Y., and overflowed downtown retaining walls. About 20,000 residents of the city and neighboring communities were told to evacuate, as were more than 70,000 residents downstream in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and nearby Kingston and hundreds of others farther south in Harrisburg. The river was forecast to crest at 41 feet later Thursday at Wilkes-Barre, the same height as the city’s levee system, the Associated Press reported.

At least nine deaths have been blamed on Lee and its remnants as the storm has made its way across the south and up the Eastern Seaboard since hitting the Gulf Coast last week.

Flooding from the Susquehanna River has forced thousands of residents to evacuate, and emergency responders have been slowed by flooded roads and highways. As AP explained:

Nearly 100,000 people were ordered to flee the rising Susquehanna River on Thursday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped more rain across the Northeast, socking areas still recovering from Hurricane Irene and closing major highways at the morning rush.

At Binghamton, N.Y., the wide river broke a flood record and flowed over retaining walls downtown. Interstate 88 was closed and emergency responders scrambled to evacuate holdouts who didn’t heed warnings to leave neighborhoods.

There was also flooding in Oneonta, N.Y., where Tom Connelly was camping by the river Wednesday night as the water began rising.

“Within a half hour — less than a half hour — it really overflowed its banks and I really almost didn’t have enough time to get out of there,” Connelly said. “By the time I left the tent, the water was within 2 feet. ... I’m sure the tent is long gone.”

Wet weather followed by Hurricane Irene and its remnants have saturated the soil across the Northeast, leaving water no place to go but into already swollen creeks and rivers. Many areas flooding this week were spared a direct hit by Irene, but authorities took no chances in the same places inundated by historic flooding after Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

The National Weather Service predicted 4 to 10 inches of rain across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast through Thursday. Flood watches and warnings were in effect from Maryland to New England.

State and local officials across the Northeast mobilized to help residents cope with the heavy rains and flooding as Tropical Storm Lee spread rain across the region. As AP reported :

New York positioned rescue workers, swift-water boats and helicopters with hoists to respond quickly in the event of flash flooding. Teams stood by in Vermont, which bore the brunt of Irene’s remnants last week, and hundreds of Pennsylvania residents were told to flee a rising creek.

By noon Wednesday, Prattsville was cut off, 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.

“It’s encouraging,” said James Kelley, 51, of Middleburgh. “A lot of people had given up last week, but with all the volunteers and help, it helps people re-energize.”

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.

More from The Washington Post

Capital Weather Gang: What’s behind all this rain?

Latest on school, government closings

Forecast: Flood risk will slowly wane

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