Business, Finance & Economics

In northeast, Susquehanna River flooding sets records

The waters of the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York began receding on Friday after flooding communities along its 450-mile banks this week. But officials said it’s too soon for 100,000 of the 130,000 residents who evacuated their homes as Tropical Storm Lee swelled the river to return.

(More from GlobalPost: Flooding forces evacuations in Northeast)

In many places, the river broke the high-water records set nearly 40 years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes, The Associated Press reports.

According to The AP:

The Susquehanna has flooded 14 times since 1810, according to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission — an average of every 15 years. And most of the communities in the basin have residents in flood-prone areas— 1,160 out of 1,400.

The worst flood in modern times was in 1972, when the remnants of Hurricane Agnes dumped biblical rains. Seventy-two people died, and damage topped $2.8 billion — about $14.3 billion in today's dollars, according to the river commission. So far, the current floods haven't been nearly as destructive.

Seven people have died in Pennsylvania during Tropical Storm Lee and its aftermath, bringing the total number of Lee-related fatalities along the east coast to 15.

The state Department of Transportation said more than 1,000 bridges remained closed in the eastern third of Pennsylvania, along with hundreds of highways, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The river crested at nearly 42.7 feet Thursday night in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. — beyond what the region's levee system was designed to handle and higher than the record set during Agnes in 1972, The AP reports. Officials said the levees keeping back the river had sprung a few leaks but were holding.

The flood-control system “is under extreme stress right now. I mean, we are well beyond our design for this system," Jim Brozena, executive director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority, said at a news conference, according to Reuters. "Every hour is a benefit to us as that river starts to recede."

About a quarter of West Pittston, home to about 5,000 people, was submerged, Mayor Tony Denisco told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

At the northern end of the Susquehanna, the mayor of Binghamton, N.Y., said the flood was the worst the city had seen in more than 60 years.