Ivan-swollen Delaware, Ohio rivers force new evacuations

Monday, September 20, 2004


The Associated Press

HERNDON, Pa. -- The storm that was once Hurricane Ivan was long gone, but its aftereffects pounded parts of the East like a hangover Sunday, as rivers and small streams swollen beyond their banks by earlier torrential rain forced new evacuations in five states.

The Delaware River flooded parts of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, forcing thousands to flee, and the Ohio River inundated parts of towns in West Virginia and Ohio. Along the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvanians watched the swift-moving current drain past them with a mixture of dread and awe, and Maryland residents were warned a deluge was coming.

From her perch on a railroad bed, Pat Long watched the chocolate-colored floodwaters of the Susquehanna flow around -- and through -- her two-story home in Herndon on Sunday.

Long, her two children and six dogs evacuated to a friend's vacant rental home a day earlier after unhooking the electricity, moving the furniture and appliances to the second floor -- and hoping that they won't be coming back to anything worse than a muddy mess.

For an evacuee, she sounded almost chipper.

"I won't move," said Long, 39. "The neighbor lady is almost 90 and this is just her fourth flood."

The Susquehanna was nearly 8 feet above flood stage Sunday morning at Bloomsburg, Pa., the National Weather Service said. It had crested in most places by afternoon but was expected to remain about flood stage through Monday.

In Harrisburg, the mayor's office reported more than 2,000 residents subject to evacuation, and the deluge closed streets and unmoored pleasure boats from docks. In the Wilkes-Barre area, the Susquehanna caused extensive damage but was running so high that officials had difficulty making assessments.

Hurricane Ivan and its remnants have been blamed for at least 52 deaths in the United States, 16 of them in Florida, and 70 deaths in the Caribbean. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were still without electricity Sunday, most of them in Florida and Alabama.

Thousands of New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents fled their homes along the Delaware River on Sunday. Several bridges that cross the Delaware between the two states were blocked by high water, and emergency officials said the river was not expected to crest until evening.

President Bush declared a disaster area Sunday for many counties in Pennsylvania, where state emergency management officials attributed six deaths to the storm. Three people drowned -- including a 2-year-old girl -- and one suffered a heart attack, but details of the other two deaths were not immediately available.

In Phillipsburg, N.J., state police helicopters were used to monitor a propane tank and a house that were floating down the river, authorities said.

"It was one of the most amazing things I've seen," said Sgt. Gerald Lewis.

About 75 people in Trenton, N.J. stayed at a shelter at an elementary school, including Stekala Nock and her five children. She said they were awakened at 3 a.m. and told by authorities to evacuate their apartment near the river.

The smaller children were napping on cots and the others were playing quietly later in the morning at the school shelter. "They think it's a big sleepover," Nock said.

The Ohio River crested Sunday at Wheeling, W.Va., at about 9.3 feet above flood stage, after submerging the city's riverfront park and amphitheater. It mostly covered the city's midriver Wheeling Island, which holds residential neighborhoods and Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming.

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise spent Saturday night with evacuees on the gym floor at Wheeling Park High, one of several Red Cross shelter sites, after a brief tour of the area by road.

"I saw mobile homes uprooted and tossed downstream," he said Sunday. "I saw human lives uprooted."

A highway paralleling the West Virginia shore of the river was blocked in several places between Wheeling and Parkersburg, and the Ohio River bridge in New Martinsville was closed, state emergency officials said. Schools in some areas were to be closed Monday because roads were blocked by water and mudslides.

All around West Virginia, flooding and mudslides had blocked more than 200 roads and damaged hundreds of houses, authorities said.

"We have had a lot of mudslides, debris on roads, slides we get cleaned up and an hour later the mud slides again," said Larry Rea, emergency services director for Brooke County, in West Virginia's northern panhandle.

About 1,700 people were out of their homes Sunday in eastern Ohio; the village of Powhatan Point was evacuated Sunday as the Ohio River was expected to crest at 8 feet above flood stage.

The river crested at 9 feet above flood stage in the southeastern Ohio city of Marietta. Streets were underwater near the river and about 200 people had to leave their homes.

Downriver along the Susquehanna, an emergency shelter was opened Sunday in flood-prone Port Deposit, Md., where some streets already were flooded and about half of the town's 700 residents were told to evacuate. The river was expected to rise several feet above flood stage there during the night, said John Droneburg, director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

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