Pennsylvanians Brace for More Rain, Evacuations

June 29, 2006

Heavy rains caused flooding throughout eastern and central Pennsylvania, prompting evacuations and resulting in at least one death, as officials braced for the possibility of major inundations along cresting rivers.

“We’re seeing flooding all over the eastern and central portions of the state,” said Justin Fleming, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

With three or four more inches of rain expected over the next 24 to 48 hours, Fleming said early Wednesday, “We’re expecting flooding potentially Wednesday or Thursday on major rivers, the Schuylkill, the Delaware and possibly the Susquehanna.”

The weather service predicted flooding of “major severity” on the Schuylkill River in Berks County by Wednesday afternoon and Gov. Ed Rendell warned that record crests along the Susquehanna River could cause major flooding Wednesday and Thursday. The surging Schuylkill flooded some low-lying streets in Philadelphia early Wednesday.

The National Weather Service had issued flash flood warnings Tuesday for 38 of the state’s 67 counties — from Westmoreland in southwestern Pennsylvania to Wayne in northeastern Pennsylvania — and placed much of the rest of the state under a flood watch.

An elderly man was killed after his car was washed away near Equinunk, Wayne County, on the New Jersey border, according to fire officials who said the man had driven on a road closed due to flooding.

“By the time we got up there, it was just too late,” Vernon Smith of the Equinunk fire department told WNEP-TV.

In Reading in Berks County, officials expected the river to be at 24 feet — 11 feet above flood stage — on Wednesday morning and already planned to open an emergency shelter at an elementary school at 5 a.m.

“The last time we had significant flooding was June 2004, and it was 16 feet, so we’re looking at significantly more flooding that we’ve experienced in the past,” said Jeffrey Widner, deputy coordinator with Berks County Emergency Management.

Some homes along the river had already been evacuated Tuesday night, he said.

In Luzerne County, Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton ordered a mandatory evacuation of the Solomon Creek flood plain area, and county officials urged other residents in low-lying areas to move belongings to higher ground and be prepared for possible evacuations as the Susquehanna rose on Wednesday. While many Wyoming Valley communities are protected by levees, Jenkins Township, Plains Township, Plymouth Township, Shickshinny, West Nanticoke and West Pittston have areas that lack levee protection and are vulnerable to flooding, officials said.

In Susquehanna County, New Milford and Lanesboro were evacuated and Interstate 81 was shut down at Lenox, Police Communications Officer Wally Jesse of the state police Gibson barracks said late Tuesday. The National Weather Service said the main street in Great Bend was “underwater because of a dam break.” No injuries had been reported, Jesse said.

Rendell said some evacuations had been reported in Adams, Lackawanna, Schuylkill and Wayne counties, and three Red Cross shelters were opened in Lackawanna County. In addition, he said, four bridges in Wayne County have been closed due to flooding conditions.

The governor said forecasters expected the Susquehanna to crest at a record 28 feet (17 feet above flood stage) at Sayre, Bradford County, and Waverly, N.Y., on Wednesday; at 36 feet (17 feet above flood stage) at Bloomsburg, Columbia County, on Thursday; and at 25 feet (eight feet above flood stage) at Harrisburg on Thursday evening.

Rendell urged residents to listen to local Emergency Alert System stations for updates.

Countless small streams and creeks overflowed their banks, as did the Lackawanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania. Authorities were also monitoring the Delaware, Conestoga, and Lehigh rivers, which were also expected to crest above flood stage.

In Scranton, the American Red Cross set up an evacuation center at Green Ridge Assembly Of God church. Floodwaters lapped the aisles of a small grocery store in Jim Thorpe, and the Lackawanna River swamped an auto body shop in Old Forge and swept away an old camper.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Fire Lt. Tom Derrick in the borough of Waymart, where an overflowing creek covered one of the town’s main streets.

In parts of western Pennsylvania, the heavy rains were accompanied by strong wind. In Smicksburg, Indiana County, heavy winds tore away a barn roof. In Mount Union, Huntingdon County, organizers were forced to cancel a large Christian music festival that was expected to draw thousands of people.

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