Obama declares emergency as floods sweep US

AFP , Friday 9 Sep 2011

Emergency declared in New York and Pennsylvania as flash floods causes havoc, forcing 100,000 to evacuate and deployment of National Guard troops

A streetlight is submerged by floodwaters from Susquehanna River in Kingston (Reuters)

US President Barack Obama declared an emergency Friday as floods swamped areas of the US northeast, killing up to five people and forcing 100,000 to flee their homes.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a flash flood warning for counties in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia, as towns became inundated, busy highways closed down and commuter lines backed up.

President Barack Obama declared an emergency in New York and Pennsylvania, ordering federal agencies to coordinate disaster relief efforts to "save lives and to protect property and public health and safety," the White House said.

Some 100,000 people in Pennsylvania's Luzerne county are under "mandatory evacuation" orders, including 20,000 in the city of Wilkes-Barre, according to local officials.

Stephen Bekenich, the county's emergency management director, warned that those who remained in flood-prone areas could not count on being rescued.
"If folks choose not to leave, they are taking (their) lives into their own hands," he said. "Help may not be able to reach them."

The city of Binghamton, New York -- 21.6 centimeters of rain fell in 24 hours -- has ordered a mandatory city-wide evacuation, affecting 10,000 people.

Flooding was also reported in and around the US capital Washington.

"We expect historic or near-historic flooding in many parts of the state," Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Ruth Miller told AFP Thursday.

Three unconfirmed fatalities during the stormy weather have been reported to authorities in Pennsylvania, she said, as the state grappled with some of its worst flooding since 1972's benchmark Hurricane Agnes, which ravaged much of the mid-Atlantic region as a deadly tropical storm.

"It's bad now, and there are some places where it will get worse," Miller said. "There is more rain that continues to come down (and) we don't expect this to end for quite some time."

Two people, one of them a young boy who was swept away in a river, died in northern Virginia, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had earlier mobilized emergency response resources, also warned of further severe flooding, calling the situation "frightening."

The NWS said early Friday that the severe weather would drift further inland, with scattered showers possible across the northeast but less rain than in the past few days.

However, more potentially dangerous weather is possible in the saturated northeast in the coming days.

Three systems are brewing in the Atlantic: Tropical Storm Nate, hovering in the Gulf of Mexico and threatening Mexico and Texas; fast-moving Tropical Storm Maria, which could hit Puerto Rico early Sunday and the Bahamas next week; and Hurricane Katia, off the US east coast and expected to remain out at sea.

The latest foul weather is the remains of Tropical Storm Lee, which slammed into the Gulf Coast on Sunday, dumping torrential rains on a huge swath of the American south, mid-Atlantic region and northeast.

"It is a double-whammy," said spokesman Bill Peat of the New York state Office of Emergency Management.

Irene dumped more than 30 centimeters of rain in parts of New York and Pennsylvania, triggering huge floods. National Guard troops have been deployed in both states.

Flash flood warnings include much of New Jersey, which suffered devastating flooding from Irene after it made landfall hundreds of miles (kilometers) south and trailed heavy rains all the way up the coast.

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