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Wilkes-Barre Avoids Worsened Flooding

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Thousands of people living along the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, are returning to their homes today. Rising waters has caused mandatory evacuations and many damaged homes.

But flooding continues in other communities across the northeast. Record rainfall sent rivers and streams over the banks in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. In Trenton, the drinking water supply was dwindling because a water filtration plant remained out of commission.

NPR's Allison Keyes reports from Wilkes-Barre.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

At three this morning the Susquehanna River was like the Incredible Hulk, massive, bulging and full of rage. The waves were 25 feet higher than normal and were slapping against the bottoms of the bridges. Now the sand colored water looks like a river again and people in Wilkes-Barre were standing along the banks pointing and taking pictures.

Mr. NELSON ABRU(ph) (Wilkes-Barre resident): I think she has to replace all her flowers in her flower pots after that.

KEYES: Nelson Abru, his wife and two daughters live in a trailer home on the banks of the river. He went to check the damage after spending two nights in a shelter.

Mr. ABRU: It's a lot better than I thought. Mud everywhere, but that's about it. It didn't make it into the house.

KEYES: That same relief creased the tired faces at Luzerne County's emergency command center, where EMA coordinator Steven Bekanich was giving a thumbs up to the 19 miles of levees along the river.

Mr. STEPHEN BEKANICH (Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency): This could have been a very catastrophic situation. The original forecast was for one foot below the top of the levee system.

KEYES: The river actually crested six and a half feet below the top of the levees. Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell says it's too early to put a price tag on the damage.

Governor ED RENDELL (Pennsylvania): In terms of loss of homes and properties and businesses and possessions and things that are dear to people, it's impossible to calculate. The loss for Pennsylvanians is truly priceless.

KEYES: It's also a mess in New Jersey where the Delaware River is forcing evacuations. In Trenton, Mayor Doug Palmer is urging residents to be patient.

Mr. DOUG PALMER (Mayor of Trenton, New Jersey): We hope that when the water recedes this weekend, on Saturday we'll go through the process of pumping people's basements out and putting their gas and electric on, because they're not going to be able to come back in the house until it's safe to do so and they have gas and electric.

KEYES: New Jersey officials say damage from the storms could be as bad as the 30 million in losses from last year's floods. Melvina Barnes(ph), a Trenton resident, says she's had enough.

Ms. MELVINA BARNES (Trenton resident): I'm moving because every year it's a pattern. I've been here for like four years, I lost everything because I had a basement apartment.

KEYES: In central and eastern New York state, where high flood waters persist, damage estimates are in the $100 million range.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Keyes
Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.
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