* Region earlier socked by flooding from Hurricane Irene
* Remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dump torrents of rain
* Railways, commuter highways closed in Philadelphia area
By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Relentless rain spawned by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee caused major flooding in the U.S. East on Thursday, forcing the evacuation of 65,000 people from the northeastern Pennsylvania city of Wilkes-Barre and swamping homes and businesses from Maryland to New England.
Evacuations also were ordered in New York state due to flooding caused by the powerful rainmaker, which earlier drenched the Gulf Coast region and tested the flood defenses of New Orleans.
Railways and busy commuter highways were closed in the Philadelphia area and at least three deaths related to the flooding were reported in Pennsylvania, whose capital Harrisburg declared a state of emergency.
As much as 12 inches (30 cm) of rain was recorded outside of Harrisburg in central Pennsylvania.
Rivers and creeks already swollen by Hurricane Irene, which caused flooding in late August in parts of the same region, threatened cities and towns throughout Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
Some 65,000 people were evacuated from Wilkes-Barre early on Thursday because of the rising waters of the Susquehanna River and another 35,000 people in surrounding counties were threatened, Luzerne County Commissioner Stephen Urban said.
The river was expected to crest at 40.7 feet (12.4 meters) later in the day and levies in Wilkes-Barre are built to withstand waters up to 41 feet (12.5 meters), Urban said.
“Our number one priority is protecting lives and getting people out of harm’s way,” Urban said.
In New York state, mandatory evacuations were declared for some 10,000 residents in Binghamton and Broome counties, near the Pennsylvania border, as well as towns in Schenectady County and Schoharie County.
Torrential overnight rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, soaked an already-soggy Philadelphia. Flooding, mudslides and rock slides closed some of the area’s busiest commuter highways, including the Schuylkill Expressway and U.S. Route 1, authorities said.
Railways were also shut because of flooding, including four heavily traveled commuter lines run by the Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA).
In New York state, Amtrak shut rail service west of Albany and officials anticipated numerous highway closures.
In New Jersey, roads closed included busy Route 73 and parts of Route 29 in Trenton along the Delaware River banks.
“It’s like Irene without the wind,” meteorologist Elliot Abrams of Accuweather.com said of the rain predicted to continue through Thursday.
Fellow forecaster Evan Myers said, “The combination of previous record rainfall, current tropical downpours from Lee, urban development and an already fragile watershed will lead to historic flooding in part of the Northeast this week.”
Additional reporting by Daniel Lovering in Pittsburgh and Holly McKenna in Albany; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Will Dunham