Rains Force Evacuations in Pennsylvania

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Tens of thousands of people in Pennsylvania have evacuated their homes near the rising Susquehanna River. As many as 200,000 people were ordered to leave flood-prone areas after record rainfall threatened levees.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

As many as 70,000 people fled their homes yesterday in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, as water rose from the swollen Susquehanna River. Officials ordered mandatory evacuations in parts of Wilkes-Barre, as well.

Jennifer Habe(ph), her partner, and two-year-old son were in a shelter just four days after moving there.

Ms. JENNIFER HABE (Flood Evacuee, Pennsylvania): It's been a little hectic trying to get everything in and then trying to get all of us out. And, you know, hope that not too much is damaged when we get back.

INSKEEP: Officials in Wilkes-Barre do not think that will be too much of a problem, as NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

When you stand over the Susquehanna River, facing the Market Street Bridge, you can see why officials told people in this natural flood plane to get out. The water touches the bottom of the bridge.

The river is now a gushing mass of water about 25-feet higher than normal. It has whitecaps, like something you'd see in the ocean, and it's moving so fast it's frightening to watch.

The National Weather Service forecast the river would reach 38 feet, just three feet below the capacity of the levee system that runs along 19 miles of the waterway. Instead, it crested at about 34.5 feet last night, and it's dropped about two feet since then.

Alan Pugh, the county's Chief of Public Safety, says people here are relieved. He says the levee system, which was extended and raised about two years ago, performed well. Though some low-lying areas away from the levee suffered what Pugh estimates to be many millions of dollars in damages, officials say it could have been much worse.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

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