HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) – More than 100,000 residents were ordered to flee the rising Susquehanna River today as the remnants of tropical storm Lee dumped more rain across the Northeast, socking areas still recovering from Hurricane Irene and closing major highways at the morning rush.
The Susquehanna is projected to crest in northeastern Pennsylvania between 4pm and 8pm Thursday at 41 feet — the same height as the levee system protecting riverfront communities including Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, officials said. Residents were ordered to leave by 4pm.
“There is no need to panic,” Wilkes-Barre mayor Tom Leighton said. “This is a precautionary evacuation and the safety of our residents is our biggest concern. We have prepared for this type of emergency and we are ready to respond to whatever comes our way over the next 72 hours.”
Wet weather followed by Hurricane Irene and its remnants have saturated the soil across the Northeast, leaving water no place to go but into already swollen creeks and rivers. Many areas flooding this week were spared a direct hit by Irene, but authorities took no chances in the same places inundated by historic flooding after Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
In Harrisburg, crews put sandbags around the governor’s mansion as the Susquehanna, wide even on a normal day, spilled over its banks.
About 90 miles to the northeast in Wilkes-Barre, 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.
The evacuations come as the remnants of Lee, which has caused flooding and power outages across the South since hitting the Gulf Coast last week, slogged northward.
The National Weather Service predicted rain would continue to fall heavily across the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states through Thursday with anywhere from 4 to 7 more inches falling and up to 10 inches in isolated pockets. Flood watches and warnings were in effect from Maryland to New England.
The rainy remnants of Agnes devastated the Susquehanna River basin in 1972 after moving up the coast. At the time it was one of the most damaging hurricanes ever recorded despite being a relatively weak storm.
Meanwhile, in the open Atlantic, Hurricane Katia brought rough surf to the East Coast but was not expected to make landfall in the US. Tropical storm Maria also formed Wednesday far out in the Atlantic, but it was too soon to tell if and where it might make landfall.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Chris Carola, Michael Hill and Rik Stevens in Albany, N.Y.; Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, N.Y.; John Curran in Montpelier, Vt.; Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa.
(Copyright 2011 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.)