Hurricane Floyd dumped up to 12 inches of wind-whipped rain on eastern Pennsylvania Thursday, turning streams into raging rivers, forcing residents from their homes and leaving thousands without power.
The rain prompted widespread flooding, but authorities were most concerned Thursday night that water might spill over a wall in the Springton Reservoir under repair in Delaware County. More than 1,000 people were evacuated from homes along Crum Creek Valley in Marple and Upper Providence townships.
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The reservoir's operator says it asked residents to evacuate because of fear that the water would breach the ten-foot deep spillway.
A company spokeswoman says there is no leak in the dam, as was reported earlier by emergency management officials.
Rainfall came down in sheets that reduced visibility to near-zero and turned streets and lawns into impassable rivers and lakes. West Philadelphia received the most rain 12 inches while Philadelphia International Airport recorded 6.6 inches, which broke a 101 year-old record. Truce, Lancaster County, received 7.5 inches, while Allentown had 6 inches.
"My son just left for vacation in Las Vegas. He's out basking in the sun I'm here stranded in the flood," said 79 year-old Bessi Garbowski of Upper Chichester Township in Delaware County as she looked at the pond in front of her home that had been a street hours earlier.
Twenty-nine of Pennsylvania's 67 counties were either under a flood warning or watch Thursday, with the most severe weather affecting five southeastern counties encompassing Philadelphia and its suburbs. Flooding was reported from Harrisburg east to New Jersey and north to New York. Many counties also were under high wind warnings.
Rivers continued to rise even after Floyd was downgraded to a tropical storm. Many were expected to reach record levels before cresting Friday.
Gov. Tom Ridge issued an emergency declaration, allowing state resources to be used to help flood-affected communities and state and local governments to bypass rules on hiring people and purchasing equipment.
Floyd made landfall early Thursday morning in orth Carolina, and its trek up the East Coast was expected to take it into New York's Long Island early Friday.
Winds that gusted Thursday to 50 mph brought down trees and power lines, leaving more than 200,000 customers without electricity. Airline and commuter rail service also was disrupted, while bumper-to-bumper traffic clogged Philadelphia streets as drivers were slowed by high water and debris as they made their way home early.
An accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Downington left three people dead, but it was not immediately known if weather was a factor, authorities said. A man also was found dead in the flooded basement of his Norristown home.
Residents were evacuated in areas prone to flooding in Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties. The number of people affected was not known.
In lower Bucks County, 45 children were evacuated safely from the Maple Leaf Learning Center in Newtown after water came through a basement window.
In Aston Township in Delaware County, several hundred people were evacuated from a mobile home park and several businesses because of floodwaters from Chester Creek. About 5 miles away in the city of Chester, the creek was 11 feet above flood stage
At least one housing development in Delaware County was cut off by water, and school buses could not drop off about 150 pupils, said Les Hedrick, the transportation director for the Chichester School District. Children were later picked up by parents or relatives.
Throughout the region, school districts sent students home early. The Philadelphia School District, which serves 213,000 pupils, closed all its schools at 12:30 p.m.
Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell appeared on television at midday to ask businesses to let workers leave in a staggered manner to prevent a nightmarish evening rush hour.
Most flights were canceled at Philadelphia International Airport, but the airport remained open Thursday.
"I'm just going to have to try to find something fun to do in Philadelphia. You make your fun where you find it," said Vera O'Pry, a vacationer from Charlotte, N.C., who was en route to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, when her flight was canceled. "I'd rather it be canceled than get in trouble in the air."
A few people benefited from the storm. In downtown Ephrata, business was brisk at Sprecher's Hardware. The hot-sellers were water pumps and Shop-Vacs, cashier Judy Miles said.
"The customers didn't do any of this ahead of time," Miles said. "Most of them already had rain in their basement when they came in."
In Marcus Hook, Sweeney's Pub remained open, even as water filled the basement. Workers at the bar were trying to bail the shoulder-high water with buckets as water pumps hummed.
Owner Pete Sweeney said that if the rain kept up, the water would reach the first floor bar.
"This is the worst storm I have seen since the '80s," Sweeney said. "I'm just trying to save what I can downstairand upstairs. What I am hoping for is that the sun will come out."