Hundreds Evacuated as Delaware River Floods

April 6, 2005

After Hurricane Ivan filled their little ranch house in Easton, Pa. with several feet of water, Dale and Charlotte Barr spent $40,000 to get it back in shape, doing most of the work themselves. They were just about to tackle the last room — the kitchen — when the Delaware River overflowed its banks again Sunday.

This time, the water rose and rose and rose until it had reached the gutters, completely submerging the first floor.

The sight of it was too much for 60-year-old Charlotte to bear Monday morning. She broke down, her hand covering her mouth. Then the Barrs returned to their hotel room to contemplate the future.

“We’re tired,” said Dale Barr, who has lived along the Delaware in Forks Township since 1978. “I’m 65 years old. I can’t continue to do this every six months.”

As the floodwaters began to recede Monday after a weekend of heavy rains, state officials took to the air to get a better look at the devastation along riverfront communities throughout eastern Pennsylvania, and residents and business owners waded through waist-high water for a more intimate view.

The damage was said to be worse than what was caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan in September, although an official estimate was not expected to get under way until the waters had fully receded.

Many bridges and roads were still impassable Monday, leading to the closure of dozens of schools and businesses. More than 4,000 homeowners statewide were evacuated Sunday ahead of the rising waters, and shelters in 10 counties took in more than 400 people, officials said.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Adrian King Jr. said the damage would certainly total in the millions of dollars.

“Certainly it appears to be, at least at this point, worse than what we saw in Ivan,” he said, noting that the water was 2 or 3 feet over those levels.

Fortunately, King said, there were no casualties or significant injuries.

Several downtown Easton buildings were still inundated Monday morning, including a fast-food restaurant and gas station, and nearby the Delaware was a raging, brown mess that barely cleared the bottom of a bridge between Easton and Phillipsburg, N.J.

The floodwaters were receding rapidly by Monday afternoon, leaving behind a mucky witch’s brew of dirty water, sediment, vegetation and debris.

Riverfront communities in central Pennsylvania were flooded to a lesser extent, while officials in northwestern Pennsylvania were concerned about the possibility of flooding caused by melting snow from a weekend storm.

But communities along the Delaware got the worst of it.

“It was like someone was taking a squeegee and just pushing the water forward,” said Bertram King, 20, a resident of a homeless shelter that was evacuated Sunday.

In Forks Township north of Easton, the Delaware swamped dozens of homes along the Delaware, including Dale and Charlotte Barr’s.

The water was an equal opportunity destroyer; houses worth half a million dollars — and much more — were inundated just the same as the tiny ranchers and capes down the road.

“This basin doesn’t act like it used to. And it’s because there’s 75 or 100 of those up there,” said Brian Hartman, waving his hand toward a new golf course community high over the river.

Like Hartman, who spent a fairly sleepless night on the second floor of his riverfront house while the water inundated the first floor, many residents here blame the flooding problems on the new housing developments that are steadily gobbling up Forks Township farmland.

Catherine Fackenthal, 48, said her mother’s house, a stunning and expansive Arts and Crafts bungalow built in the early 20th century, was under water.

Fackenthal, who had helped restore the house following Ivan, said about a dozen people helped move her mother’s belongings to the second floor on Sunday. When the water got too high, they rowed to the bank.

“It’s especially frustrating considering what happened in September, because we just spent three months cleaning all the crap up,” she said.

A football field down Old River Road, Dave Link, Sam Ruth and Mitch Black, buddies who share a rambling three-unit building owned by Link, had spent the night in their respective automobiles looking at the rising river. But all of them were in remarkably good spirits.

“It got wet again,” Link, 47, quipped as he surveyed his building, whose first floor was under water.

Further down the Delaware in Yardley, Bucks County, the Delaware Canal was over its walls and more than 40 feet across, at least triple its normal width. The canal and a small lake had joined with the river to form a single body of water interrupted only by small islands of ground with quaint houses perched on top.

The Susquehanna River crested above flood stage at many places along the river, including almost 70-year highs in New York state, said Susan Obleskie of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Water flooded basements, roads, riverfront parks and even the Towanda Airport, but damage appeared to be less serious than that inflicted by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan.

Irene Miller, Columbia County’s director of public safety, estimated that water rose above basement level in about 100 homes and businesses in Bloomsburg and nearby river towns.

In Sayre, near the New York border, about 150 people were asked to evacuate from the river’s east bank, borough manager David Jarrett said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Associated Press reporters Randy Pennell, Marc Levy, Genaro Armas and Dan Nephin contributed to this story.

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