East Coast watchful as waters rise, rain falls

Saw Mill River Road resembles its namesake as it is innundated by floodwaters Friday, March 11, 2011, in Elmsford, N.Y.  Heavy rains overnight led the Saw Mill River and others to overflow their banks, causing major flooding across Westchester County.
Jason DeCrow | AP
Saw Mill River Road resembles its namesake as it is innundated by floodwaters Friday, March 11, 2011, in Elmsford, N.Y. Heavy rains overnight led the Saw Mill River and others to overflow their banks, causing major flooding across Westchester County.
Posted March 11, 2011, at 3:20 p.m.
Last modified May 31, 2011, at 11:59 a.m.
This NOAA satellite image taken Friday, March 11, 2011, at 12:45 PM EST shows clouds covering the Northern U.S., while the South remains sunny and dry.  A low pressure system has moved into the Northeast, triggering rain and snow showers that stretch into the Great Lakes.  At the same time, another low pressure system skirts along the US and Canadian border, kicking up scattered snow showers over the Northern Plains.  High pressure building over the Southern Plains and Southeast allows for a warm and dry day.
AP
This NOAA satellite image taken Friday, March 11, 2011, at 12:45 PM EST shows clouds covering the Northern U.S., while the South remains sunny and dry. A low pressure system has moved into the Northeast, triggering rain and snow showers that stretch into the Great Lakes. At the same time, another low pressure system skirts along the US and Canadian border, kicking up scattered snow showers over the Northern Plains. High pressure building over the Southern Plains and Southeast allows for a warm and dry day.

WOODLAND PARK, N.J. — Rivers rose from Maryland to Maine on Friday after days of rain, filling basements with water and forcing hundreds of people from their homes but so far not fulfilling fears of widespread catastrophe.

Some of the hardest-hit areas were just outside New York City, which is emerging from a snow-filled winter. Flood-prone parts of northern New Jersey were under water not expected to recede for a few days in spots.

By Friday afternoon, 1,500 homes in near the Pompton River in Pequannock had to be evacuated, as did about 100 in Fairfield, Gov. Chris Christie said. A handful of shelters opened by midday, and the American Red Cross was preparing more.

In Woodland Park, N.J., Mel Sivri spent the morning preparing for what havoc the Passaic River would wreak.

Sivri hung his daughters’ pink bicycles and other items from ceiling hooks in the garage while an industrial pump cleared 4 inches of water the floor. He monitored weather websites to decide whether to send the family to a friend’s house on higher ground.

“You cannot pump the river,” he said. “You just have to wait for it to go down.”

Major flooding was also expected along the Pequannock, Ramapo and Pompton rivers in northern New Jersey. Some of the same spots flooded this week after heavy rains Sunday.

Gov. Chris Christie toured Pompton Lakes on Friday and saw flooding minor enough that residents were able to stay ahead of it with pumps in their basements. The worst might still be ahead in northern New Jersey, where most rivers are not expected to crest until Saturday.

Christie was criticized when he was out of state during a late December blizzard. This time, with forecasters expecting floods days in advance, he declared a state of emergency even before the rain began falling.

The National Weather Service said no major rains were expected for several days, giving the area a chance to dry out.

While the rain stopped in the mid-Atlantic region, it continued to fall in New England. But northern New England saw less rainfall than expected in some spots, reducing worries of widespread flooding.

Mike Cempa from the National Weather Service says southern Maine saw little more than an inch of rain, and most of New Hampshire saw even less on Friday. The rain was enough to cause flooding on the Sugar and Suncook rivers in New Hampshire, but no damage was reported.

The bigger concern is that rising water could cause river ice to break up, creating ice jams that can cause flooding. On Friday, officials were monitoring a pair of ice jams in Plymouth, N.H.

In Vermont, flooding did not materialize in Montpelier.

In Maine, the Coast Guard planned to start Kennebec River ice-breaking operations on Monday, but decided to start early on Saturday to counter the threat of ice jams.

In Westchester County, N.Y., ducks swam across the Hutchinson River Parkway.

In Elmsford, just north of New York City, pedestrians waded through knee-deep water from the Saw Mill River, which expanded from 15 feet wide to 200 feet in some places Friday.

With her bus not running, Elizabeth Ritter decided to walk the couple of miles to her job as a nurse’s aide in White Plains. She forded the Saw Mill in bare feet and tried to hold her black shoes above water while hiking up a pant leg.

“It’s cold, very cold. I was worried about stepping on glass. But it’s pretty smooth; just concrete,” she said. “I had to get to work. They need me.”

In nearby Greenburgh, Jessica Dontona was home with her 7-year-old daughter, Samantha, to check on the house. They had decamped in the middle of the night for a hotel as the basement filled with water.

The flood made her think about moving.

“You know, living high on a hill is starting to look really good,” she said.

At least two people have died because of the recent flooding.

A 74-year-old Pennsylvania man’s car was swept into Swatara Creek on Thursday in Pine Grove, about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia. On Friday, officials in Ohio told The Blade newspaper that a woman drowned after getting out of her car in a ditch in Williams County.

The National Weather Service said the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania could rise as much as 8 feet over flood stage by Saturday near Wilkes-Barre. The city has a levee system to protect it, but low-lying areas downriver had some minor flooding.

Authorities said about 100 people were evacuated in Bethlehem, Pa., because they live on a flooded road along the Lehigh River.

In Pittsburgh, police set up detours for revelers coming into the city for Saturday morning’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. The detours are to help motorists avoid low-lying sections of Interstate 376 along the Monongahela, which was expected to flood by Saturday morning.

New York state from Manhattan to the Canadian border was under a flood watch as heavy rains and melting snow closed roads. More than a dozen school districts in the Hudson River Valley were closed or delayed because of flooding, and crews drained water from an 18-acre pond to relieve pressure on a privately owned earthen dam a mile upstream from the hamlet of Sidney Center, 150 miles north of New York City. Richard Bell, Delaware County’s director of emergency services, said engineers feared the dam was unstable.

There were scattered evacuations of homes in Deerpark, in rural southern New York state and Preble, near Syracuse.

There was also moderate flooding in western Maryland. Both the Conococheague Creek in Fairview and the Monocacy River near Frederick were over their banks.

In Ohio, minor flooding persisted along the Ohio River. It was about 3 feet above its official flood level in Cincinnati on Friday and still rising.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jim Fitzgerald in Elmsford, N.Y.; Chris Carola and Michael Hill in Albany, N.Y.; Shawn Marsh in Trenton, N.J.; David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md.; Matt Moore in Philadelphia; Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh; and Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, N.J.

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