Flood warnings in place after record rains soak eastern U.S.

WASHINGTON Thu May 1, 2014 1:47pm EDT

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WASHINGTON May 1 (Reuters) - Flood warnings were posted across the eastern United States on Thursday after a powerful storm system unleashed record amounts of rain from New England to Florida.

The remnants of the storm that dumped up to 11 inches (28 cm) of rain in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday had moved into the Atlantic Ocean by early Thursday, said Dan Petersen, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

"It's winding down pretty quickly," he said, but added that northern Florida and Georgia could another 2 inches (5 cm) of rain before the system moved on.

Florida rescue teams took to boats to pull stranded residents from the fast-moving floodwaters after 11 inches (28 cm) of rain pounded Pensacola and nearby Mobile, Alabama, on Wednesday.

The downpour added to the water levels of streams and rivers already swollen from a tornado-generating system that killed at least 34 people and injured hundreds in the U.S. South over a period of three days. Alabama officials on Thursday estimated damage in the state at close to $6.7 million.

Near Lake Charlene, Florida, state wildlife officers evacuated a 92-year-old bedridden woman trapped by rising waters, the wildlife agency said in a statement.

The rescue boat motor failed, so officers walked it down the flooded street, loaded the woman into the boat on a backboard and pushed her to an ambulance.

Severe storms in Florida were thought to have contributed to an explosion and fire at a jail late on Wednesday that killed two inmates and injured about 150 guards and other inmates.

Heavy rain in New Jersey, where a one-day record of 4.03 inches (10.24 cm) was set for Trenton, caused the Cooper and Delaware rivers to overflow.

In Camden, New Jersey, water rose several hundred yards (meters) onto the Delaware waterfront. Camden County rescue teams had to help save several stranded motorists, county spokesman Dan Keashen said.

"This was what we'd consider a five-year storm, but we're getting these annually," he said.

Flood watches were in place throughout the Philadelphia area, with numerous reports of road and bridge closings in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Flood warnings were also posted around Washington and in Connecticut, where Bridgeport set a single-day record of 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) of rain.

Parts of Laurel, Maryland, were under water after authorities opened floodgates on Wednesday at a leaking Patuxent River dam, the city said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson, Richard Weizel in Connecticut, Daniel Kelley in Pennsylvania, Barbara Liston in Florida and Verna Gates in Alabama; editing by Gunna Dickson.)

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