June 29, 2006

Worst over in northeast floods

By Matthew Verrinder and Steve James

TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - Officials declared the
flooding that forced many thousands from their homes in the
U.S. northeast past the worst on Thursday and turned to
counting the costs of the storm.

Days of torrential rain followed by floods killed at least
16 people in the eastern United States, including those who
died in storm-related road accidents.

With buildings submerged, roads washed out and rivers
surging, authorities declared emergencies on Wednesday and
ordered hundreds of thousands of people evacuated in New
Jersey, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

By Thursday afternoon, the threat of further damage
appeared to have passed, although officials said it would take
time for the water to recede.

"In terms of the flood, the worst of it is over. But we
still have a long way to go in terms of cleaning it up and
getting people back in their houses. The clean-up is going to
be massive," said Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer.

Up to 200,000 evacuees from the historic coal-mining region
around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, were allowed to return to
their homes and businesses after levees held back the
Susquehanna River, which crested overnight.

"Had the dikes broken, we could have had a New Orleans type
situation in Wilkes-Barre," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell,
praising emergency services for their work which included
rescuing 1,200 people by helicopter, raft and other means.

Levees failed in New Orleans last year after Hurricane
Katrina, flooding 80 percent of the city.

Rendell said it was too soon to assess the damage, which he
called "incalculable." "Yesterday was a war zone in the
northern tier of Pennsylvania," he said on CNN.


New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine told reporters the flooding was
likely to cause damage in a similar range to floods last year
that caused losses amounting to $30 million.

Trenton Police Capt. Joseph Juniak said the Delaware River
was lower than had been predicted by afternoon. "The worst of
it is over," he said.

"The hardest part after this will be getting the residents
back in there," he said, adding that it could take a week.

There were 6,200 people evacuated from homes along the
Delaware, Corzine said. Those who remained were urged to
conserve water because floods had forced the closing of a
filtration plant, leaving just a day and a half's supply of
water until it was fixed.

Angela Ellis, 44, from the Island section of Trenton, asked
police if she could go home, saying, "You mind if I swim into
my property and grab a few belongings and swim out? All my
stuff is in there."

Melvena Barnes, 26, and her one-week-old daughter, who left
their apartment near the river to stay with her mother, vowed
this flood was her last. "I'm moving," she said. "I've been
here for four years, and the floods just keep getting worse."

New York Gov. George Pataki said after visiting the flooded
city of Binghamton the destruction was unprecedented and the
cost could run into hundreds of millions of dollars, according
to a spokesman.

The National Weather Service warned there could be evening
thunderstorms across New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware
and Maryland that could slow the return to normal.

(Additional reporting by Jon Hurdle in Wilkes-Barre, David
Lawder in Washington, Sarah Coffey, Ellen Wulfhorst and Claudia
Parsons in New York)