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Nine dead as rain causes floods

PHILADELPHIA – The worst flooding in the eastern United States for decades, triggered by days of torrential downpours, has killed at least nine people and forced thousands to flee their homes.

With roads washed out and waters rising, authorities on Wednesday declared emergencies across swathes of New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Travel along the heavily trafficked Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to New York was hard-hit, and rivers threatened to inundate major cities.

Up to 200,000 people in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and the surrounding area were ordered to evacuate their homes before sundown Wednesday as the Susquehanna River rose to dangerous levels threatening to overwhelm a flood control system that was only completed in 2002, a local official said.

“The worst part is yet to come,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, speaking on Fox News, who warned that major rivers would cresting late on Wednesday or early Thursday.

In Wilkes-Barre, the U.S. Coast Guard used helicopters to rescue up to 70 people stranded on rooftops.

The National Weather Service reported nine confirmed fatalities across the eastern United States.

“We have a very dangerous situation on our hands,” said Brian Hughes, county executive of Mercer County, New Jersey, which includes the state capital of Trenton, where a mandatory evacuation was ordered for part of the city.

After Hurricane Katrina killed thousands of residents in New Orleans last year, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine said people should take evacuation orders seriously.

“When the local community asks for an evacuation, it really needs to occur,” he said, following reports that people in flood zones were not responding to appeals to leave.

More than 2,200 people were ordered to leave Montgomery County, Maryland just north of Washington D.C., due to the potential failure of an earthen dam on a small lake.

The rising waters threatened Manayunk, a Philadelphia suburb, where residents were asked to leave when the Schuylkill River overflowed its banks.

Among the fatalities, three people drowned in western Maryland, trying to ford a flood in their car, and two teenagers from Keymar, Maryland, were missing and feared swept away in a flood.

Three people died in flood-related car accidents in central New York, said State Police Lt. Robert Galletto said. Two truckers were killed in Sidney, New York, when their rigs fell into an enormous sinkhole. A motorist died in Holmesville, New York, after swerving into a ravine along a washed-out road.

In Virginia, more than 200 roads were closed, and officials expected more closures. A search was under way for a missing 8-year-old girl who fell into a ditch and was swept into a swollen creek on Tuesday, CNN reported.

Major rivers across the region were threatening to crest at dramatic levels not seen for decades:

–In Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River could rise to its highest level in 125 years, the National Weather Service warned, to a crest of 14.5 feet by Thursday.

–The Delaware River, which separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania, surpassed 14 feet by mid-Wednesday morning. Authorities closed several bridges and warned that waters could rise as high as 21 feet.

–The Susquehanna River was expected to crest between 36 and 38 feet early Thursday, just a few feet below the area’s 41-foot levees.

–Further south, at Trenton, the Delaware was expected to rise another eight feet to crest at 28 feet (8.5 meters) by Thursday.