- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Up to 200,000 people in the Wilkes-Barre area were ordered to evacuate their homes yesterday because of rising water in the Susquehanna River, swelled by a record-breaking deluge that has killed at least 11 persons in the Northeast.

Thousands more were ordered to leave their homes in New Jersey, New York and Maryland. Across the region, rescue helicopters plucked residents from rooftops as rivers and streams surged over their banks, washed out roads and bridges and cut off villages.

Wilkes-Barre, a northeastern Pennsylvania city that was devastated by flooding in 1972 by the remnants of Hurricane Agnes, is protected by levees. But county officials said the Susquehanna was expected to crest just a few feet from the tops of the 41-foot flood walls.

Luzerne County Commissioner Todd Vonderheid said officials worried about the stability of the levees because the water was expected to press up against them for 48 hours.

“It is honestly precautionary,” Mr. Vonderheid said. “We have great faith the levees are going to hold.”

A dozen helicopters from the Pennsylvania National Guard, the state police and the Coast Guard were sent on search-and-rescue missions, plucking stranded residents from rooftops in Bloomsburg, Sayre and New Milford. Hundreds of National Guard troops were preparing to distribute ice, water, and meals ready to eat.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell declared a disaster emergency in 46 of the state’s 67 counties.

Flooding closed many roads in the Philadelphia area, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Officials walked rafts through deep water to ferry children out of a tennis camp in Philadelphia.

The soaking weather was produced by a low-pressure system that has been stalled just offshore since the weekend and has pumped moist tropical air northward along the East Coast.

The same system drenched Washington on Sunday and Monday, closing the National Archives, the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department and other major government buildings in the nation’s capital.

Binghamton, N.Y., received a record-breaking one-day total of 4.05 inches of rain on Tuesday. Although most of the rain moved out of the area yesterday, forecasters said more showers and occasional thunderstorms were possible along the East Coast for the rest of the week, and rivers and streams continued to rise from the runoff.

An estimated 2,200 people were ordered to evacuate an area surrounding Lake Needwood in Rockville, Md., which was approaching 25 feet above normal yesterday. Engineers found weakened spots on the lake’s earthen dam, said Bruce Romer, the county’s chief administrative officer.

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