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Tropical Storm Lee's Remnants Bring Fresh Flood Worries To East Coast

Tropical Storm Lee

MICHAEL GORMLEY   09/ 8/11 12:35 AM ET   AP

WINDHAM, N.Y. — Drenched and dispirited, East Coast residents recovering from Hurricane Irene were stuck under the chugging remnants of Tropical Storm Lee on Wednesday, some of them grudgingly preparing to move to higher ground again as rivers rose while others fled flash flooding.

From Maryland to New England, heavy rains swelled waterways, flooded highways and stretched emergency responders already dealing with cleanup from last week's punishing blow from Irene. Sodden ground gave rain nowhere to go but directly into streams, creeks and rivers that rushed a turbid red-brown past rural communities.

"Now it's getting on my last nerves," said Carol Slater, 53, of Huntersfield, N.Y., on the northern edge of New York's Catskill Mountains and just outside of hard-hit Prattsville.

As rain washed out the tennis matches for the second straight day at the U.S. Open in New York City, the National Weather Service predicted it 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 in isolated pockets. Flood watches and warnings were up throughout the region.

In Pennsylvania, rain set off flash flooding across a wide swath of the state, closing roads and forcing evacuations.

New York positioned rescue workers, swift-water boats and helicopters with hoists to respond quickly in the event of flash flooding. Teams stood by in Vermont, which bore the brunt of Irene's remnants last week, and hundreds of Pennsylvania residents were told to flee a rising creek.

By noon Wednesday, Prattsville was cut off, its main roads covered with water as public works crews tried to dredge the creeks to alleviate the flooding. Trash bins stood in the mud-caked streets to collect debris left by Irene and the wreckage of houses destroyed by the earlier storm still dotted the area.

Heavy rain fell, and residents were ready to evacuate as the Schoharie Creek escaped its banks and smaller streams showed significant flooding.

"Businesses and residential areas were devastated before," Wayne Speenburgh, chairman of the Greene County Legislature, said of Prattsville. "Downtown, there's nobody living because there's no homes to live in."

In nearby Middleburgh, dozens of residents were evacuated from temporary shelters set up in schools, many for the third time since Irene hit. Many businesses remained empty but were adorned with hopeful signs – like the one at Hubie's Pizzeria – that they would reopen.

"It's encouraging," said James Kelley, 51, of Middleburgh. "A lot of people had given up last week, but with all the volunteers and help, it helps people re-energize."

Flooding also led to voluntary evacuations in the Catskills town of Shandaken, Rotterdam Junction near Albany, and a section of Schenectady along the Mohawk River. Some schools in the Hudson Valley north of New York City closed or delayed start times.

Areas of Broome County, including portions of downtown Binghamton, were being evacuated Wednesday night as heavy rains caused flood levels on the Susquehanna River and other creeks and tributaries. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was installing flood control gates in several locations throughout the county, according to a statement from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who planned to visit the region on Thursday.

Along the road in Windham were several soggy, cardboard signs from last week's storm that said "Thank you for your help."

Patrick Darling said he and wife Dawn are trying to keep their sense of humor while dealing with a second week of flooding.

"We have stress, lots of stress," he said after using shovels to clear mud and debris from his neighbors' homes. "We've been shoveling our stress out."

Lee formed just off the Louisiana coast late last week and gained strength as it lingered in the Gulf for a couple of days. It dumped more than a foot of rain in New Orleans and trudged across Mississippi and Alabama.

Tornadoes spawned by Lee damaged hundreds of homes, and flooding knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people. Trees were uprooted and roads were flooded. Winds fanned wildfires in Louisiana and Texas, and the storm even kicked up tar balls on the Gulf Coast.

At least four people died; no deaths were reported Wednesday. Irene was blamed for at least 46 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.

In Maryland, firefighters were among those who had to be rescued Wednesday as storms flooded roads, stranding drivers who had to be pulled from rushing water and pushing residents from their homes.

A swift-water rescue boat capsized in the Patapsco River near Catonsville as firefighters responded to rescue calls near the Howard County line, Baltimore County spokeswoman Elise Armacost said, adding that all firefighters were later accounted for.

In New York, several residents said even if the call for mandatory evacuation comes, they won't go.

"We stayed here through Irene, we'll stay through this," said Doris Pasternak, 59, owner of the historic Prattsville Hotel and Tavern, where water rose up to 5 feet into the lower floor after Irene. "I have a hatch on the roof. I'm not moving. I'm just too old to pick up and go."

A flood watch was in effect through Thursday afternoon in soggy Vermont. Parts of the state are still recovering from flooding from the remnants of Irene, which was a tropical storm by the time it swept over the area.

Swift water rescue teams are on call, and residents should be ready to evacuate if rivers rise fast, said Vermont Emergency Management spokesman Mark Bosma.

Irene hit upstate New York and Vermont particularly hard, with at least 12 deaths in those areas and dozens of highways damaged or washed out. Several communities in Vermont were cut off entirely and required National Guard airdrops to get supplies.

Flood watches or warnings were in place through Thursday night for much of Pennsylvania. About 3,000 residents along the Solomon Creek in Wilkes-Barre were ordered to evacuate due to quickly rising waters, but the creek crested about 4 feet below flood stage and the order was lifted Wednesday afternoon. Rain from Irene also led to evacuations there last week.

Flash flooding shut down dozens of Pennsylvania highways Wednesday and forced the evacuation of some riverfront trailer parks and campgrounds, while state officials braced for potentially worse problems along the swollen Susquehanna River. Other damage on Wednesday included a mudslide in Lancaster County, and two zoo animals that were caught in rising floodwaters in Hershey had to be euthanized.

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.

Meanwhile, in the open Atlantic, Hurricane Katia brought rough surf to the East Coast but was not expected to make landfall in the U.S. Tropical Storm Maria also formed Wednesday far out in the Atlantic, but it was too soon to tell if and where it might make landfall.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Michael Hill and Rik Stevens in Albany, N.Y.; John Curran in Montpelier, Vt.; Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa.; Bill Poovey in Chattanooga and Alex Dominguez in Baltimore.

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Filed by Joanna Zelman  |