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Floods hit US northeast, 100,000 told to evacuate |
Friday 9 September 2011.
Heavy rains have swamped areas of the US northeast already sodden from last week's Hurricane Irene, causing flash floods suspected in at least three deaths and forcing more than 100,000 people to evacuate.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a flash flood warning for several counties in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia, as raging flood waters invaded towns, closed busy state highways and blocked commuter lines.
Some 100,000 people in northeastern Pennsylvania's Luzerne county are under "mandatory evacuation" orders, including 20,000 in the city of Wilkes-Barre, city spokesman Drew McLaughlin said.
The torrential rains of recent days caused the flooding of the Susquehanna River, which flows through Wilkes-Barre's densely populated Wyoming Valley as well as communities in neighbouring New York state.
Stephen Bekenich, emergency management director for Luzerne County, warned that those that remain in flood prone areas may not be able to count on rescue.
"If folks choose not to leave, they are taking lives into their own hands," Bekenich said. "Help may not be able to reach them."
The city of Binghamton, New York - where 21.6 centimetres of rain fell in 24 hours, according to the NWS - ordered a mandatory city-wide evacuation of some 10,000 people.
And the mayor of Harrisburg, 100 kilometres west of Philadelphia, declared a state of emergency and ordered thousands to evacuate as the Susquehanna rose to flood stage.
The river is expected to rise another three metres there before cresting, city officials said.
Flooding was also reported in and around the US capital Washington.
"We expect historic or near-historic flooding in many parts of the state," Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency deputy press secretary Ruth Miller told AFP.
Three unconfirmed fatalities amid the stormy weather have been reported to authorities in Pennsylvania, she said, as the state grapples with some of its worst flooding since 1972's benchmark Hurricane Agnes, which ravaged much of the mid-Atlantic region as a deadly tropical storm.
"It's bad now and there are some places where it will get worse," Miller added.
"There is more rain that continues to come down (and) we don't expect this to end for quite some time."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has mobilised emergency response resources, also warned of further severe flooding, calling the situation "frightening."
Even as the US northeast sags under extensive flooding which has closed major roadways and blocked commuter lines, more potentially dangerous weather is on the way.
Three cyclones are brewing in the Atlantic: Tropical Storm Nate, hovering in the Gulf of Mexico and threatening Mexico and Texas; fast-moving Tropical Storm Maria, which could slam Puerto Rico early Sunday and hit the Bahamas next week; and Hurricane Katia, off the US east coast and expected to remain out at sea.
The latest foul weather to hammer the United States is the remains of Tropical Storm Lee, which slammed into the Gulf Coast on Sunday, dumping torrential rains on a huge swath of the American south, mid-Atlantic region and northeast already drenched by Hurricane Irene.
"It is a double-whammy," said spokesman Bill Peat of the New York state Office of Emergency Management.
Irene dumped more than 30 centimetres of rain in parts of New York and Pennsylvania over the past four days, triggering huge floods across parts of the northeast.
And the misery is expected to continue, with up to six more inches of rain on Thursday, the weather service said.
National Guard troops have been deployed in New York and Pennsylvania, and rescue personnel were on standby.
The flash flood warnings include much of New Jersey, which suffered devastating flooding from Irene after it made landfall hundreds of kilometres south and trailed heavy rains all the way up the coast.