Tropical Storm Lee threatens Northeast with more flooding
KINGSTON, N.Y. (AP) — Northeastern residents still weary from the flooding wrought by Hurricane Irene braced Wednesday for the leftovers of Tropical Storm Lee, which brought welcome moisture to farmers in parched parts of the South on its slog northward.
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 river.
"Everybody's on alert," said Dennis Michalski, spokesman for the New York Emergency Management Office. "The good thing is, the counties are on alert, as they were for Irene, and people are more conscious."
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, testing the city's pump system for the first time in years, 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.
By Tuesday, it had collided with a cold front, leaving much of the East with wet, unseasonably cool weather.
Heavy rain fell Wednesday morning on the already-battered town of Prattsville, on the northern edge of New York's Catskill Mountains, where residents were ready to evacuate as the Schoharie Creek escaped its banks and smaller streams showed significant flooding.
If a storm to the west moved east, where many people are still displaced after last week's deluge, Greene County chairman Wayne Speenburgh said, he'd give the order to evacuate.
"It's becoming very fluid as we speak," he said. "Our command center and recovery area could be in the flood plain."
Flooding also led to voluntary evacuations in the Catskills town of Shandaken, and some schools in the Hudson Valley north of New York City closed or delayed start times.
A flood watch was in effect through Thursday afternoon in soggy Vermont. Parts of the state are still recovering from massive damage inflicted by floodwaters 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.
In its trudge up the coast from the Carolinas to Maine, Irene was blamed for at least 46 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
As the remnants of Lee spread over the area, flood watches or warnings were in place through Thursday night for much of Pennsylvania, where about 3,000 residents along the Solomon Creek in the city of Wilkes-Barre were ordered to evacuate after the water level there quickly approached flood stage before receding in the morning. Rain from Irene also led to evacuations there last week.
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. Major flooding was forecast on Wednesday for the Passaic River, which breached its banks during Irene and caused serious damage.
On New York's Long Island, heavy rain and winds knocked out power to more than 9,000 utility customers for several hours on Tuesday.
In Chattanooga, Tenn., a 24-hour record for rainfall was set with 9.69 inches, eclipsing the previous record of 7.61 inches in March of 1886. By Tuesday, more than 10 inches of rain had fallen in the city, which had its driest August ever, with barely a drop of rain.
The rain was a blessing for some farmers who had been forced to cut hay early and had seen their corn crop stunted by a summer drought.
"Obviously we would like to have this a while earlier," said Brant Crowder, who manages 600 acres of the McDonald Farm in the Sale Creek community north of Chattanooga. "It's been hot and dry the last two months."
The soggy ground meant even modest winds toppled trees onto homes and cars. A Chattanooga woman died when a tree fell on her car, police said.
In suburban Atlanta, a man died after trying to cross a swollen creek near a dam. A swimmer was presumed dead in rough Gulf waters off Alabama, and another man drowned while trying to cross a swollen creek in a car.
At a flooded apartment complex in Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia, 33 people were saved by boat, officials said. The American Red Cross set up a shelter for them and other residents displaced in Mississippi, where damage was reported in at least 22 counties.
In Gulf Shores, Ala., chunks of tar as large as baseballs washed up on the beach. Samples were being sent for testing to determine if they were from last year's BP oil spill.
As many as 200,000 customers lost power across Alabama at the height of the storm. Outages were also reported in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.
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.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Katia weakened to a Category 1 storm in the Atlantic early Wednesday and was expected to pass between the U.S. East Coast and Bermuda over Wednesday night and Thursday.
The storm's maximum sustained winds decreased to 90 mph (150 kph). Additional weakening was expected Thursday. It is not expected to hit the U.S. coast.
The hurricane center also said a tropical depression farther out in the Atlantic was expected to become a tropical storm later in the day.
The depression, which could become Tropical Storm Maria had maximum sustained winds near 35 mph (55 kph). It was centered about 1,100 miles west-southwest of the Cape Verde Islands and moving west near 20 mph (32 kph).
It could pass over or near Puerto Rico by Sunday.