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120,000 ordered to leave home as heavy rains threaten Pa., N.Y.

September 8, 2011 |  9:24 am

Philflood 
More than 120,000 people in Pennsylvania and parts of upstate New York were ordered from their homes as rivers continued to rise Thursday in the wake of heavy rainfall from the remnants of former Tropical Storm Lee.

Evacuations in Luzerne County in Pennsylvania were moved up about eight hours to 4 p.m. on Thursday as the Susquehanna River began rising faster than expected. About a third of the county, 100,000 people, was told to leave, including about 20,000 from the county seat of Wilkes-Barre, city spokesman Drew McLaughlin said in a telephone interview.

The evacuations represent about half the population of the city, McLaughlin said, adding that people have been asked to bring supplies such as food and medicine. In general, the evacuation order covers the southern and downtown portions of the city and areas that have flooded before, such as when remnants of Hurricane Agnes roared through in 1972.

Officials are estimating that people should be prepared for a 72 hour-evacuation,  meaning they could be kept from their homes through the weekend, he said. Pieces of what was once Tropical Storm Lee have continued to move through the Northeast this week, bringing heavy rains.

The storm drenched Louisiana over the weekend as it moved from the Gulf of Mexico to land. Then the storm decayed over the South and moved north and east, carrying major rainfall. Flood watches and warnings were ordered from Maryland to New England. The National Weather Service said another 4 to 7 inches of rain could be expected in the next days.

That heavy load comes on ground already saturated from intense rains from Irene, which worked its way up the East Coast at the end of August. Much of the ground simply can’t absorb the new storm.

For example, in Broome County in upstate New York, 20,000 people have been ordered evacuated, said Colleen Wagner, a county spokeswoman. Another 7.9 inches have recently fallen or are expected.

“It’s a much higher problem than that,” she said in a telephone interview. “In the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a lot of rain piled on top of that.”

Along with the Susquehanna, she said officials were expecting flooding in the Chenango River.

Heavy rains have closed roads near Philadelphia and parts of the New York State Thruway along the southern tier. There were also concerns about new flooding along the Passaic River in New Jersey, which was hard hit by Irene.

Three rain-related deaths were reported in Pennsylvania.

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 -- Michael Muskal

Photo: Cars cross a flooded street in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia. Widespread flooding brought on by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee was being blamed for three deaths in Pennsylvania, where inundated communities were evacuated and state offices closed because of the rising waters. Credit: Matt Rourke/Associated Press

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