Rain From Tropical Storm Lee Pounds East Coast
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. Today in downtown Binghamton, New York, water from the Susquehanna River flowed over retaining walls. And in the area around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, authorities ordered mandatory evacuations. Tens of thousands of people in the Northeast are being asked to leave their homes because of Tropical Storm Lee. NPR's Jeff Brady has our story.
JEFF BRADY: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania sits right on the Susquehanna River, and that has Luzerne County Commissioner Maryanne Petrilla worried.
MARYANNE PETRILLA: It's alarming how fast the river is rising. Let's put it that way. You look out one minute and it's at one point, and you look out 40 minutes later and it's rising at an alarming rate.
BRADY: Petrilla says after Hurricane Agnes in 1972, a levee system was built that should protect the area as long as the river doesn't rise to more than 41 feet. Yesterday, forecasters predicted it would crest 5 feet below that, prompting authorities to issue a mandatory evacuation for 8 o'clock Eastern tonight. But then, Petrilla says, the new forecast came in this morning, predicting the Susquehanna will crest at 41 feet tonight, bringing it near the top of those levees.
PETRILLA: Which caught us all by surprise, therefore, we moved the hour of evacuation up to 4 o'clock.
BRADY: North of Wilkes-Barre in Binghamton, New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo had this warning.
Governor ANDREW CUOMO: This is going to get much worse before it gets better.
BRADY: Cuomo's director of state operations, Howard Glaser, says many were surprised yesterday afternoon when the National Weather Service increased how high the river was predicted to crest by 8 feet.
HOWARD GLASER: It means the difference between a serious flood and a major flood. And as people in Binghamton know, that reaches or exceeds the 2006 flood level, with projections of overtopping of floodwalls, which we are beginning to see some of now.
BRADY: At Binghamton University, senior Meghan Hartman evacuated Wednesday night.
MEGHAN HARTMAN: The river had just, you know, it has a life of its own at this point. It's getting bad.
BRADY: Hartman is volunteering, answering calls at the university from residents with questions about what they should do. Meantime, Hartman says there's no word if her own house has taken on water.
HARTMAN: It's right across from the river, unfortunately, so it's probably going to be flooded by the time I get home, whenever that is.
BRADY: All this comes to a region that already has been battered by weather. There was Hurricane Irene last month and near-constant record amounts of rain that have left much of the ground unable to soak up any more water. Ray Succar spent today cleaning out the flooded first floor of his house in Wayne, New Jersey.
RAY SUCCAR: We have to deal with the mildew, and it's been humid. So we've been using fans to air out the house constantly. And unfortunately, now with the weather condition, we're expecting more flood. I don't know if this stuff is going to make it inside the house or it's not going to make it. I mean, it's devastating.
BRADY: Here in Philadelphia, heavy rain and flooding led to a very frustrating commute this morning. Some trains in the city were not able to run, and one of the main freeways to downtown was closed while crews removed a mudslide that blocked the road. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.
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