Up to 200,000 people in northeastern Pennsylvania were ordered to evacuate their homes Wednesday because of rising water on the Susquehanna River, swelled by a record-breaking deluge that has killed at least 11 people.
In addition to those being evacuated near the town of the Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania, thousands more were ordered to leave their homes in New Jersey, New York and Maryland. Across the region, rescue helicopters plucked residents from rooftops as rivers and streams surged over their banks.
Wilkes-Barre, a city that was devastated by flooding in 1972 by the remnants of Hurricane Agnes, is now protected by levees. But county officials said the Susquehanna was expected to crest just a few feet from the tops of the 41-foot (12.3-meter) floodwalls.
Luzerne County Commissioner Todd Vonderheid said officials worried about the stability of the levees because the water was expected to press up against them for 48 hours.
"It is honestly precautionary," Vonderheid said. "We have great faith the levees are going to hold."
A dozen helicopters from the Pennsylvania National Guard, the state police and the Coast Guard were sent on search and rescue missions, plucking stranded residents from rooftops in Bloomsburg, Sayre and New Milford. Hundreds of National Guard personnel were preparing to distribute ice, water, and meals ready to eat.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell declared a disaster emergency in 46 of the state's 67 counties.
Flooding closed many roads in the Philadelphia area, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Officials walked rafts through deep water to ferry children out of a tennis camp in Philadelphia.
The soaking weather was produced by a low-pressure system that has been stalled just offshore since the weekend and pumped moist tropical air northward along the East Coast.
The same system drenched Washington, D.C., on Sunday and Monday, closing the National Archives, the Justice Department and other major government buildings in the nation's capital, reports AP.