Susquehanna River Drenches Small Pa. Towns

fromWITF

Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River is spilling over its banks, leaving serious flooding in its wake. The city of Wilkes-Barre's levies have held up, sparing it from a worst-case scenario flood. But small towns throughout south-central Pennsylvania are covered in water.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: In Pennsylvania, the flooding of the Susquehanna River has left at least four dead. In the city of Wilkes-Barre, the levees have so far held back a record-breaking crest. But small towns throughout south-central Pennsylvania remain covered in water.

And as we hear from Scott Detrow of member station WITF.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

SCOTT DETROW: A water pump bailing out a flooded basement. It's a sound we've heard in North Dakota, Mississippi and Vermont this year. Today, it's happening in Marietta, a Lancaster County community that sits on the Susquehanna River.

The 57-foot high waters have flooded Bob Shank's home and the tavern he owns.

BOB SHANKS: Well, they're both underwater right now, but it wasn't near as bad as it was expected to be. We have about three feet in our living room right now and we only have a foot and a half in the tavern.

DETROW: It could have been worse. That's something people are saying all along the Susquehanna, but could have been worse doesn't mean safe. In Wilkes-Barre, cresting levels are now higher than previous estimates, reaching 42 and a half feet. The city's levees are under extreme stress.

Luzerne County commissioner Maryanne Petrella says people who live in evacuation zones need to stay out, even as the river begins to recede.

MARYANNE PETRELLA: People need to understand that we realize they're impatient. We realize they want to come back home. But they can't - they just can't. It's not safe yet.

DETROW: In Hershey, the major roads into town have buckled. A zoo next to Hershey Park had to evacuate its animals to a hockey arena. But two bison became trapped in rapidly-rising waters and zookeepers had to shoot and kill one of them after the other drowned.

In Bloomsburg, the river is more than 30 feet above its banks, surpassing a record set in 1904. The flood water making its way down the Susquehanna is toxic. More than ten sewage treatment centers along its banks have failed, and that waste is now in the river, according to Governor Tom Corbett.

Governor TOM CORBETT: It's going to come downstream. You know, in some respects a flood has - you know, the solution is a dilution. It will be spread out. But in talking with the Department of Welfare and the Department of Health, this isn't something you want to go play in.

DETROW: The water smells like diesel fuel in Marietta, because of all the home heating units in flooded basements. People across the region are being told to boil their tap water before drinking it. And in many communities, they need to be off the streets be eight or nine o'clock at night, because of curfews.

(SOUNDBITE OF A BARKING DOG)

DETROW: More than 20 people and 10 dogs, three cats and a baby squirrel are at a Red Cross shelter. It's one of ten set up throughout central Pennsylvania.

Tyler Vrob has just come in with his mom and their poodle. Their entire first floor is flooded.

Do you have any idea when you'll be able to come back?

TYLER VROB: Us? No. Not at all. I don't know if we're even going to be able to come back.

DETROW: Really?

VROB: Yeah.

DETROW: How bad is the damage so far?

VROB: Our house was really old to begin with, so this flood definitely did not help whatsoever.

DETROW: Vrob is one of the many people here who are taking the damage in stride. People say Marietta is used to flooding, and there's not much they can do except wait for the water to recede. Then, it's time for the long, slow cleanup.

For NPR News, I'm Scott Detrow, in Marietta, Pennsylvania.

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