Tropical Storm Leaves Flooding

Tropical Storm Lee eased its grip on much of the eastern United States on Friday but left behind at least five people dead, more than 130,000 evacuated and towns submerged in historic flooding.

Pennsylvania’s swollen Susquehanna River crested in Wilkes-Barre at 4 a.m. at 38.8 feet, with no breach of levees that were built to withstand 41 feet of water, officials said. It was the second highest crest in its history, behind 40.9 feet set by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, meteorologists said.

Heavy rainfall ended over much of the region but spotty downpours were predicted throughout the day, according to meteorologist Alex Sosnowski of Accuweather.com.

Rising rivers and stressed dams and levees presented the latest challenge to states still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Irene.

More than 130,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.

“My nightmare is the mud and the smell and the cleaning,” said Annette Billings, who was evacuated to a shelter with her son Brandon and their dog from their ground-floor apartment in Luzerne, a Wilkes-Barre suburb.

Another person who stayed overnight at the Red Cross evacuation center in a Dallas, Pennsylvania, middle school outside the flood zone was Richard Yarashas, who learned from watching television that his home in Kingston was spared.

“We were saved this time by sheer luck,” Yarashas said. “Thank God they had raised the dikes.”

Dikes at Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, on the opposite side of the Susquehanna, were raised as much as 12 feet and fortified following the devastating flood caused by Hurricane Agnes.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, his wife Susan and their two dogs left the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg on Thursday afternoon after water began seeping into the basement, his press office said. It said the basement had about two inches of water when the Corbetts left.

The evacuation of the mansion, located on Front Street facing the raging Susquehanna, was reminiscent of the flood caused by Hurricane Agnes when then-Governor Milton Shapp and his wife Muriel had to flee rising flood waters.

Among those who disregarded the evacuation in Pennsylvania were residents of Tunkhannock and Shickshinny, normally picturesque Susquehanna River towns now under eight feet of water, who rode out the flood in their bedrooms and attics.

On Friday, Pennsylvania National Guard troops went house to house in West Pittston, a nearly submerged nearby town without levees, in a search and rescue mission.

The most severely flooded were small towns without dikes along the river about 50 miles north and south of Wilkes-Barre. One slightly larger college town, Bloomsburg, was under water and closed to all but emergency workers.

Pennsylvania’s governor warned residents to steer clear of the river waters, which were a toxic mess after flooding washed out 10 sewage processing plants.

Flood warnings were issued for Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts and flash flood watches remained in effect on Friday in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., according to the National Weather Service.

The storm killed at least five people in Pennsylvania and Virginia. In Hershey, Pennsylvania, a homeowner trying to bail water out of his flooded basement died when a wall collapsed. In Lancaster County, a 62-year-old woman in her car was caught in flood waters, and a man was swept away as he tried to walk through rushing water 12 to 18 inches deep, authorities said.

In Virginia’s Fairfax County, flash floods swept away two people, a 12-year-old boy in his family’s backyard and a man in his sixties who was outside his car, said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for Fairfax County Police.

“The water rose so quickly and so abruptly. It was terrifying,” Caldwell said.

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