* Susquehanna River reaches record high in Wilkes-Barre
* River waters toxic mess after washing out sewage plants
* Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland struggle with floods
By Paul Eckert
WILKES-BARRE, Pa., Sept 9 The Susquehanna
River, swollen by rainfall from the remnants of Tropical Storm
Lee, reached record levels in Pennsylvania on Friday and
submerged some towns amid worry that flood waters had been
turned toxic by swamped sewage processing plants.
Rainfall ended in the region from the powerful weather
system that earlier drenched the U.S. Gulf Coast. But rising
rivers and stressed dams and levees presented a stern challenge
to Pennsylvania as well as Virginia and Maryland, states socked
by flooding in late August after Hurricane Irene.
One Pennsylvania college town, Bloomsburg, was under water
and closed to all but emergency workers.
The Susquehanna reached a record high of 42.6 feet (13
meters) in hard-hit Wilkes-Barre early on Friday but the levee
system held in the northeastern Pennsylvania city,
meteorologists said. The river topped the 40.9-foot (12.5
meters) level in flooding caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
By later on Friday, Susquehanna had receded a bit to 41.4
feet (12.6 meters).
A levee system protected Wilkes-Barre but remained under
heavy pressure and had sprung a few small leaks, Luzerne County
engineer Jim Brozina said at a news conference.
"It is under extreme stress right now. I mean, we are well
beyond our design for this system," Brozina said. "Every hour
is a benefit to us as that river starts to recede."
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett earlier told residents to
steer clear of the river waters, which were turned into a toxic
mess after flooding washed out 10 sewage processing plants.
VIRGINIA DECLARES EMERGENCY
Governor Bob McDonnell on Friday declared a state of
emergency in Virginia due to the flooding.
At least five people earlier were killed in the flooding in
Pennsylvania and Virginia and more than 130,000 people were
evacuated on Thursday in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.
"This is a record flood in many areas, and people should
expect the unexpected," said Joel Myers of Accuweather.com, who
warned of potential sinkholes, flash floods, dams failing and
The most severely flooded were small towns without dikes
along the Susquehanna River about 50 miles (80 km) north and
south of Wilkes-Barre.
Dikes at Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, on the opposite side of
the Susquehanna, were raised as much as 12 feet (3.7 meters)
and fortified following the devastating flood caused by
National Guard troops went house to house in a search and
rescue mission in West Pittston, a nearly submerged town
"My nightmare is the mud and the smell and the cleaning,"
said Annette Billings, who was evacuated to a shelter with her
son Brandon and their dog from their ground-floor apartment in
Luzerne, a Wilkes-Barre suburb.
Flood warnings were issued for Pennsylvania, New York, New
Jersey and Massachusetts and flash flood watches remained in
effect in Maryland, Virginia and the U.S. capital Washington,
according to the National Weather Service.
As the Susquehanna slowly receded, in a Pennsylvania town
along its banks called Forty Fort, caravans of dump trucks
carried boulders to reinforce the vulnerable levees.
Police used bullhorns to chase onlookers from the levees,
but in some areas along the edge of the flood zone, children
rode bicycles and families strolled the river bank to inspect
the churning waters. The sun shone brightly in a clear blue
Two bison at the Hershey Park attraction in central
Pennsylvania were among the flood casualties.
(Additional reporting by Dave Warner in Philadelphia and
Daniel Lovering in Pittsburgh; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and