- Associated Press - Thursday, September 8, 2011

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — Almost 100,000 people from New York to Maryland were ordered to flee the rising Susquehanna River on Thursday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped more rain across the Northeast, closing major highways and socking areas still recovering from Hurricane Irene.

At Binghamton, N.Y., the wide river broke a flood record and flowed over retaining walls downtown as more than 8 inches of rain fell in some areas. Road closures effectively sealed the city off to outside traffic as emergency responders scrambled to evacuate holdouts who didn’t heed warnings to leave neighborhoods.

“It’s going to get worse,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who urged residents to heed evacuation orders rather than wait until the flood danger is obvious.

“By the time it looks that bad, you won’t be able to leave, so leave and leave now,” he said.

Most of the people ordered to evacuate their homes were about 80 miles downstream in Wilkes-Barre, where the river was projected to crest later Thursday at 41 feet — the same height as the levee system, officials said. Residents were ordered to leave by 4 p.m.

In Port Deposit, Md., rising water levels at the Conowingo Dam forced officials to open the floodgates and order the evacuation of most of the Susquehanna River town’s 1,000 residents.

There was also flooding upstream from Binghamton in Oneonta, N.Y., where dozens of evacuees sought help at a church center.

“By seven o’clock (Thursday morning), we got a knock on our door saying we had to leave,” said Kevin Olmstead, a cab driver who had to leave with his fiancee, 10-year-old daughter and other relatives so quickly that he only had clothes, a cellphone and an iPad. “We actually had to tread through the water to get out.”

Evacuation orders were issued Wednesday to some 20,000 people in Binghamton and neighboring communities along the Susquehanna. More than 70,000 residents in Wilkes-Barre and Kingston were told to leave. So were people in about 170 homes about 90 miles downstream in Harrisburg, where crews put sandbags around the governor’s mansion.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said residents should prepare for an 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.

Water levels along much of the Susquehanna were expected to be at their highest since 1972, when Hurricane Agnes devastated the river basin.

At least nine deaths have been blamed on the storm that hit the Gulf Coast last week as Tropical Storm Lee and has slogged northward ever since. Four people died in central Pennsylvania, one was killed in Maryland, and four others died earlier when Lee hit the South.

Roads and highways closed around the Northeast, including sections of New York’s Interstate 88, which follows the Susquehanna’s path. 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.

New York’s Thruway Authority expected to close a 105-mile stretch of its busiest east-west highway, Interstate 90, because the nearby Mohawk River had overflowed its banks in some areas.

Story Continues →