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Rain sparks evacuations after rivers begin surge

Tue., April 5, 2005

TRENTON, N.J. – Flooding from a weekend of drenching rain forced thousands of people from their homes in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and closed the New Jersey Statehouse on Monday.

The same weekend storm system piled more than 2 feet of snow in some places in southwestern New York and northwestern Pennsylvania.

Three people were reported missing after they were swept away by the floodwaters in eastern New York state. In New Jersey, where about 3,500 people were evacuated, acting Gov. Richard J. Codey estimated that property damage would approach $30 million, close to the amount caused by Hurricane Ivan last September.

“The Delaware River is calling the shots right now,” said state police Superintendent Col. Joseph “Rick” Fuentes.

The river was expected to crest Monday, but it could take until the end of the week for the water to recede enough for people to return home.

Codey declared a state of emergency on Sunday and barred nonessential state workers from Trenton on Monday.

At one point, water was 6 feet deep in the bottom level of the Statehouse parking garage, just yards from the Delaware River. In the hardest-hit areas along the Delaware, water lapped against roofs.

“It was like someone was taking a squeegee and just pushing the water forward,” said Bertram King, 20, one of about 15 people evacuated from a homeless shelter in Easton, Pa.

At a playground near the Pompton River, the water rose to a few feet below the level of a basketball rim.

Some residents who had remained in their homes glided down the aptly named Island Street in rowboats, using snow shovels as paddles.

Along the Delaware, about 800 people were evacuated from their homes Sunday in Port Jervis, N.Y., at the point where the three states meet. At least 100 of them spent the night at a high school.

At Cincinnatus, N.Y., a river flooded a nursing home, forcing out about 35 residents.

High water also closed roads and several schools in eastern New York’s Hudson Valley.

Police in Deposit, N.Y., near the Pennsylvania line, resumed their search Monday for two men whose van was swept away by a creek on Sunday.

In Ulster County, N.Y., a woman was missing after her SUV flipped over in water. Her 21-year-old daughter grabbed onto a tree and was rescued.

Parts of the region have had about 7 inches of rain in the last 30 days, with most of it since March 23, said David A. Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist.

“In the last two weeks, we’ve had more than a month and a half of rainfall, with some snowmelt in there,” he said.

Residents of southwest New York’s Chautauqua County were digging out Monday from as much as 26 inches of wet, heavy snow.

The slow-moving spring storm dumped up to 19 inches of snow on northwestern Pennsylvania, stranding motorists for hours Sunday on a 22-mile stretch of highway and knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes.

Interstate 90 was closed from the New York state line to Erie as emergency officials tried to clear roads and reach stranded motorists with snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or accidents, authorities said.

Dozens of cars were stranded on the highway. Erie received 12.5 inches of snow over the weekend. The storm also knocked out power to 25,000 customers, officials said.


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