Lee's remnants bring fresh flood problems our way

PHILADELPHIA - September 7, 2011

Along the Kelly Drive, flooding made a mess of the morning commute. For the second time in a week it was closed to traffic in some places as the Schuylkill River came over its banks.

The Philadelphia police issued a statement Wednesday night about Kelly Drive.

"It has been decided that based on the current river forecast and the strong probability of continued flooding on Kelly Drive (per the most recent NWS river forecast) through Friday morning, that Kelly Drive will remain closed until flood waters have completely receded.''

"It's getting to be an everyday scene down here," said Albert Fiedler who has lived in the East Falls section his entire life. "It's very dangerous."

Meanwhile, at the Spring Mill SEPTA station, the Action Cam was there as tow trucks were used to remove parked cars that were threatened by rising flood waters.

Throughout the region waterways already filled from record rainfall once again spilled over roadways.

This time the flooding appeared to be mostly an inconvenient to drivers. In SchuylkillTownship, Pawlings Road was closed because of high water. In Mont Clair, Montgomery County flood water came precariously close to homes. In Whitemarsh Township, the Schuylkill lapped against homes along River Road, but it wasn't the only trouble spot in the area. The fast moving Wissahickon Creek rushed over Stenton Avenue near Mill Road.

State officials braced for potentially worse problems along the swelling Susquehanna River and several creeks and streams, and several school districts canceled classes.

"The whole main stem of the Susquehanna River will see moderate to major flooding in the next 24 hours," affecting Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre, Sunbury and other cities along its banks, Charles Ross, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service office in State College, said Wednesday.

The rain's effects were quick. In northwestern Lancaster County, it touched off a mudslide that partially blocked two roads. At ZooAmerica in Hershey, rising floodwaters trapped two bison that later had to be euthanized.

The governor scheduled a news conference for 9 p.m. Wednesday to discuss flooding in the central and eastern parts of the state. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is warning property owners to watch steep slopes, urging motorists to use caution, noting that the heavy rain and flooding has increased the danger of landslides.

"Landslides could be an issue in areas not otherwise susceptible to them, particularly in central and eastern Pennsylvania," said Helen Delano, a senior geologist with the agency.

The road closures involved most of the interstate highways, including Interstate 83 at York, and a much larger number of state highways and local roads. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation urged motorists to limit travel to the most essential trips and to stay off the roads if possible.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said it was closely monitoring the Susquehanna, Juniata and Delaware rivers for potential flooding, said spokesman Corey Angell. The Pennsylvania National Guard activated about 100 members in case they were needed to aid in rescues, traffic control and other flood-related missions, said spokesman Sgt. Matthew Jones.

In Harrisburg, the state capital, Mayor Linda Thompson declared a citywide state of emergency, citing predictions by the Federal Flood Forecasting Center that the river would reach the flood stage of 17 feet early Thursday and would crest at 24 feet Thursday night.

Near Hershey, the National Weather Service said the Swatara Creek was set to reach a record 20 feet by Thursday morning, surpassing the 16.1 foot record it set in June 2006.

ZooAmerica, part of the Hershey entertainment resort complex, closed early so that staff could begin moving animals to higher ground, spokeswoman Mindy Bianca said.

But water in the bison enclosure rose from inches to feet in about 15 minutes, trapping two animals, Bianca said. They could not be rescued in time and were euthanized.

"This was a really tough choice that our zoo staff had to make," Bianca said.

States of emergency were also declared in Dauphin, York, Lebanon and Huntingdon counties, as well as smaller cities and towns.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, minority chair of appropriations committee, said the amount of rain was great.

"I'm glad we got into State College, I swam up ... flew into Harrisburg then did the backstroke," Hughes, D-Philadelphia, joked at a hearing on higher education funding on the Penn State campus in State College.

In Wilkes-Barre, officials issued an evacuation order affecting about 3,000 residents around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, after the Solomon Creek rose from 4 to 11 feet in three hours. It was rescinded around 11 a.m. after the water began to subside, said Mayor Tom Leighton.

"We erred on the side of caution," Leighton said in a telephone interview.

In the Harrisburg suburbs, students were kept at a high school and elementary school until authorities determined the buses could safely get the students home. Central Dauphin School District's website said at late afternoon they were given the go-ahead to do so and would try to get students as close to their normal bus stops as possible.

Several school districts along the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania canceled school on Thursday, including Wilkes-Barre, Pittston and Nanticoke.

At least five trailer parks and campgrounds were evacuated Wednesday, Angell said, and shelters were set up in some counties for residents displaced from their homes.

The Red Cross set up six shelters in and around Harrisburg and Lancaster and another nine were being prepared or already open in and around Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania.

In Easton and Allentown, in eastern Pennsylvania, the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers were expected to hit flood stage, but major flooding was not anticipated.

Amtrak suspended train service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg because of fallen trees on the tracks and damage to the overhead power lines. Late Wednesday afternoon, the company said it could not estimate how soon service would resume.

Elsewhere, the rain Tuesday and Wednesday left hundreds without power. Allentown-based energy company PPL Corp. listed roughly 500 customers without power in York County in south-central Pennsylvania, with another 300 without power in Pike County in the northeastern edge of the state.

The additional rain is on top of the downpours brought by Irene less than two weeks ago. At its peak, that storm left more than 700,000 without power and flooded numerous roads and low-lying areas across central, northeastern and eastern Pennsylvania.

Lee's remnants have been entangled with the leftovers from a cold front that swung through Pennsylvania this week, causing the widespread rain.

In Camp Hill, at their home along Yellow Breeches Creek, Karyn and Rob Brenkacs spent Wednesday morning preparing for more flooding. They and their school-age children had been been forced to spend three months in an apartment following an April flood in their house.

"We just moved home," said Karyn Brenkacs, 39, the operations manager for a financial services company. "I just unpacked last week."

The Brenkacs moved furniture and other property to the second floor of their colonial home or elevated them on the first floor in hope of keeping them dry.

"We're trying to put our washer and dryer up on cinderblocks," she said. "Everything is at least 3 feet up."

April was the first time floodwaters had entered the house since before they moved in nearly nine years ago, she said.

In Marietta in central Pennsylvania, residents and officials were keeping a close eye on the Susquehanna River, which was forecast to crest Friday at 59.4 feet, more than the 56 feet it reached during storms in 1996 and 2004.


Armas reported from State College, Pa.

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