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  •   Floyd Sweeps Over New England

    The Somerset Patriots ballpark is flooded from the Raritan River in Bridgewater Twp., N.J., on Friday. Heavy rain accompanying Hurricane Floyd caused the river to overrun its banks, inundating nearby Bound Brook and Manville. (AP)
    By Leslie Miller
    Associated Press Writer
    Friday, September 17, 1999; 12:23 p.m. EDT

    Tropical Storm Floyd spun into New England today, pelting the region with heavy rain as it delivered a final blow from its whirlwind race up the East Coast. In its wake, floodwaters caused havoc in parts of North Carolina and New Jersey and rescuers took to the air today to reach hundreds of stranded people.

    The storm packing winds of 60 mph fell apart after flooding states from South Carolina to New Jersey. As of 11 a.m., the remnants of Floyd had made their way up to Boothbay Harbor in Maine, with wind down to 25 to 35 mph.

    Left behind were millions of dollars in damage and at least 18 deaths, including 12 from traffic accidents in the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Massachusetts. Two girls in Delaware drowned after they were swept into a sewage pipe, three people were killed by falling trees, and one man was presumed drowned in the Bahamas.

    Across eastern North Carolina today, where 15 inches of rain fell, rescue teams mounted a massive rescue operation today to reach 1,500 stranded people, some in trees or on rooftops.

    Thwarted by floodwaters at every turn, rescuers took to the sky and boats. Thirty-five aircraft took wing this morning, and boats were rushed to Rocky Mount, N.C., and other areas with the worst flooding.

    ``What we're trying to do is get people off of rooftops today,'' said Mark Van Sciver, a state emergency management official. ``Our biggest problem is that we can't get vehicles into these areas. ... This is really bad.''

    In Rocky Mount, so many rescue aircraft were in the sky that a Coast Guard chopper hovered overhead, doing nothing but air traffic control, public safety secretary Richard Moore said.

    ``For many people in North Carolina, the worst part has just begun,'' he said.

    All of the rain from Floyd virtually shut down the coastal plain east of Interstate 95.

    ``What we're asking people to do is basically observe a 'closed' sign for all of North Carolina east of 95,'' Moore said today.

    The flooded roads barred evacuees from returning to Wilmington today. I-40 and all secondary highways into Wilmington except U.S. 17 from Jacksonville were closed. Authorities were diverting I-95 traffic at Petersburg, Va., to I-85.

    Among those rescued today were members of two Princeville, N.C., families who were ferried across a flooded ditch by boat and power company boom truck.

    ``I'm so scared. I've never been in a boat before. I just want to get out,'' said Bessie Whitehead, one of the rescued people.

    It was a similar situation on a smaller scale in Bound Brook, N.J., today. Serious flooding from the Raritan River stranded some terrified residents on rooftops. A Coast Guard helicopter plucked at least a half-dozen people from roofs, and officials said the total number of residents in distress could be higher.

    ``We've just got to concentrate on getting people out,'' said Gov. Christie Whitman, who today asked the federal government to declare New Jersey a disaster area. ``The headcount really hasn't started yet.''

    The floodwaters rendered firefighters helpless to extinguish a raging blaze in a pair of adjacent Bound Brook businesses, which was out of control this morning. Helicopters were brought in from New York to drop water on it.

    Nearly 1 1/2 feet of rain fell in some areas, disrupting travel along most of the East Coast and canceling a formal, open meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York for the first time in recent history.

    Traffic problems continued today across parts of the Northeast, with some commuter rail service still crippled in the New York City area. Amtrak service resumed this morning in some areas but was still cut off between New York and Philadelphia.

    On Thursday, the storm grounded hundreds of flights, closed thousands of businesses and gave nearly 3 million students a day off from school, including all public schools in New Jersey and New York City. The city schools reopened today but there were scattered closings elsewhere.

    More than 1.1 million people were without power late Thursday and early today in eight states, from Maryland to Massachusetts. Some 360,000 customers in Maryland were expected to be without electricity into the weekend. Hundreds of thousands more remained without power in the Southeast.

    While the Southeast picked up the pieces and grappled with flooding after Floyd blew ashore early Thursday with 110 mph winds and torrential rain, residents farther north who were not in flooded areas agreed the storm didn't pack much punch.

    ``This is a joke,'' said Morgan Paul Neff, a bartender at O'Murphy's in Montauk, N.Y. ``We get weather like this nine or 10 times a winter. I didn't even take in my furniture.''

    Nowhere along the Atlantic coast did Floyd strike as hard as it did in the Bahamas. Authorities said hundreds of homes were flattened and roofless on several islands. Thousands of people faced weeks without telephone, electricity or reliable water service.

    Floyd arrived on the U.S. mainland early Thursday, rolling through North Carolina and into New England 24 hours later.

    In New York City, thousands of businesses closed early, sending their workers home before the worst of the storm passed. Normally bustling Manhattan streets were nearly deserted Thursday night. Some who didn't heed the call were stranded when the weather got worse as the day wore on.

    ``I guess it's my fault,'' said commuter Herbert Browne, 48, who was trying to get back to Hastings-on-Hudson. ``Since 3 o'clock my wife's been saying get out of the city ... I said, `This is New York City. It doesn't close down.'''

    The storm had a major effect before it arrived in New England, sending people rushing for batteries, provisions and wood to protect fragile windows.

    Three of every four flights were canceled at Logan International Airport in Boston on Thursday, while Amtrak and ferry service to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket were suspended or shut down.

    In Rhode Island, Jean and Alan Bennett sat in the South Kingstown High School cafeteria playing a card game called ``aggravation'' as the wind howled outside. They were the only ones at the shelter Thursday after coming in from the beach cottage they are renting.

    The North Haven, Conn., couple, who celebrate their 52nd anniversary on Sunday, managed to keep a sense of humor. They had plenty of room and the school cafeteria was ready to cook up as many pizzas and hamburgers as they wanted.

    ``Hey, this is exciting,'' Mrs. Bennett said. ``At least we'll always remember this anniversary.''

    © 1999 The Associated Press

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