TRENTON, N.J. – Muddy, coffee-colored floodwaters poured into homes, basements and stores on both sides of the Delaware River and rose as high as the street signs Thursday in some of the worst flooding to hit the Northeast in decades. At least 16 deaths were blamed on the deluge.
The city of Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania was spared when the newly raised levees held back the raging Susquehanna River, and officials lifted an evacuation order covering 200,000 people. But other communities drenched by days of record-breaking rain were not as lucky.
Along the swollen and still-rising Delaware River, thousands of people were driven from their homes, and officials closed 10 bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania because of high water. The floodwaters reached as high as the street signs in Easton, Pa. On the other side of the river in Lambertville, N.J., ducks swam down a street of shuttered antiques shops.
The supply of drinking water was dwindling in Trenton the day after the floodforced the city’s water purification plant to shut down, and Gov. Jon Corzine declared a statewide emergency.
New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes warned people not to return home. “The sun is shining but the waters are still high. The Delaware is raging,” Fuentes said. “It will get better, but it will not get better today.”
Mary Iglesias, who was forced from her neighborhood in Trenton, worried about what she would find when her family is allowed to go back.
“We dragged everything up out of the basement and put all the furniture we could on top of tables or counters on the first floor,” she said. “We tried to take it up to the second floor, but nothing would fit up the stairs except the TV.”
There were no immediate damage estimates. But Gov. Corzine said the flood looked a lot like one in April 2005 that caused $30 million in damage.
In Maryland, a new round of evacuations was ordered in Cecil County as the rising Susquehanna threatened about 300 homes. About 2,200 residents downstream from a dam in Rockville were asked to stay away from their homes for fear the dam would break.
At least 16 deaths in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and New York were blamed on the storms and the flooding. In New York’s Sullivan County, searchers found the body of a 15-year-old girl whose house collapsed as she stood on the porch waiting to be rescued.
Searchers also found the bodies of two Maryland boys, ages 14 and 16, who were swept away earlier this week after they went to look at a rain-swollen waterway.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in and around Wilkes-Barre began returning home. Officials said at least 50,000 people obeyed Thursday’s evacuation order.