HERSHEY, Pa. — Nearly 100,000 people were ordered to flee the rising Susquehanna River on Thursday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped more rain across the Northeast, socking areas still recovering from Hurricane Irene and closing major highways at the morning rush.
At Binghamton, N.Y., the wide river broke a flood record and flowed over retaining walls downtown. About 80 miles downstream in Wilkes-Barre, the river was projected to crest later Thursday at 41 feet — the same height as the levee system, officials said.
Residents were ordered to leave by 4 p.m.
In Harrisburg, crews put sandbags around the governor's mansion as the river spilled over its banks. In Binghamton, emergency responders scrambled to evacuate holdouts who didn't heed warnings to leave neighborhoods. Flooding closed Interstate 88 and flooded parts of the city of Oneonta, N.Y., which is home to a state university.
Tom Connelly was camping by the river Wednesday night when the water began rising.
"Within a half hour — less than a half hour — it really overflowed its banks and I really almost didn't have enough time to get out of there," Connelly said. "By the time I left the tent, the water was within 2 feet. ... I'm sure the tent is long gone."
The Susquehanna is projected to crest in northeastern Pennsylvania between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday at 41 feet — the same height as the levee system protecting riverfront communities including Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, officials said. Residents were ordered to leave by 4 p.m.
"There is no need to panic," Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said. "This is a precautionary evacuation and the safety of our residents is our biggest concern. We have prepared for this type of emergency and we are ready to respond to whatever comes our way over the next 72 hours."Story: Tropical Storm Nate spins off Mexico's coast
In Binghamton, N.Y., about 80 miles upstream from Wilkes-Barre, the Susquehanna broke a flood record Thursday morning and overflowed its retaining walls downtown.
Emergency responders were scrambling to evacuate holdouts who didn't heed earlier warnings to leave city neighborhoods threatened by record flooding. Evacuation orders began being issued Wednesday to some 20,000 people in the city and neighboring communities along the Susquehanna.
Broome County emergency services manager Brett Chellis told The Associated Press that water started coming over the walls about 10 a.m., less than 12 hours after officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for sections of the city near where the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers converge.
"It's getting worse by the minute," Chellis said.
The National Weather Service said the river level is over 25 feet, above the 25-foot record set in 2006 and more than 11 feet above flood stage. It's expected to rise another foot or so.
Wet weather followed by Hurricane Irene and its remnants have saturated the soil across the Northeast, leaving water no place to go but into already swollen creeks and rivers. Many areas flooding this week were spared a direct hit by Irene, but authorities took no chances in the same places inundated by historic flooding after Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
At least nine deaths have been blamed on Lee and its aftermath.
In Harrisburg, crews put sandbags around the governor's mansion as the Susquehanna, wide even on a normal day, spilled over its banks. About 90 miles to the northeast in Wilkes-Barre, Leighton said residents should prepare for an evacuation of 72 hours and advised them to take clothing, food and prescription medicine. He also asked city businesses to close their doors by noon.
The high waters were being blamed for the partial collapse of the Slabtown Bridge in Montoursville, Pa. No one was on the bridge at the time, authorities said.
The National Weather Service predicted rain would continue to fall heavily across the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states through Thursday with anywhere from 4 to 7 more inches falling and up to 10 inches in isolated pockets. Flood watches and warnings were in effect from Maryland to New England.
In New Jersey, where many residents were still cleaning up after Irene, the remnants of Lee were expected to drop anywhere from 2 to 5 inches of rain. There was some flooding along rivers including the Passaic, which breached its banks during Irene and caused serious damage. Heavier flooding is expected Thursday.