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Levees hold Susquehanna; Delaware River rages

Wilkes-Barre evacuees head back home; death toll rises



NEW HOPE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Levees contained the swollen Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania, enabling thousands of evacuees to head back home Thursday, while the Delaware River threatened the southeastern part of the state.

The death toll from flooding in several states climbed to 14 Thursday when the bodies of two teenage boys were found in Maryland.

They were found in Frederick County's rain-swollen Little Pipe Creek, said Michael Dmuchowski, Frederick Fire and Rescue spokesman.

The victims, who were reported missing Tuesday night, were identified as Michael White, 14, and Thomas Plunkard, 16, from the Keymar, Maryland, area.

The news was better in northeastern Pennsylvania, where a mandatory evacuation affecting up to 200,000 people in Wilkes-Barre and a nearby valley area was lifted.

Officials said the city's $175 million levee system held back the rising Susquehanna River despite floods caused by overflowing tributaries and creeks, and rain that averaged a half-inch an hour in some areas. (Watch quick drop in Susquehanna River level -- 2:08)

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said the decision to lift the evacuation order was based on an Army Corps of Engineers inspection of a local dike, which was ruled safe.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Thursday afternoon that the area appeared to have "dodged a bullet."

"We already have situations in southeastern Pennsylvania where the water level is 8, 10, 12, 13 feet above flood stage," Rendell said Thursday morning. "We're holding our breath that if we can get through the end of the afternoon today, we should be OK."

The danger had not passed everywhere. Although the Susquehanna was slowly receding, people in other areas kept a close eye on the Delaware River. (Map)

The Delaware flows past the tourist town of New Hope, in southeastern Pennsylvania's Bucks County, where it overflowed its banks Wednesday and threatened shops and homes, officials said.

About 500 residents and at least 250 of the area's 320 businesses have been evacuated, said Daryl Jurbala, deputy emergency operations coordinator for New Hope.

Water levels had remained unchanged for an hour as of about 2:30 p.m., he said, and officials said they hoped it will begin to recede.

"We are past the level of our last flood. That's about 19 feet over normal levels of water," Jurbala said. "We know what's flooded, and we want to minimize damage as much as possible."

Jurbala said the area was without electricity and, "We can't turn the power on until the water goes down."

The National Guard is conducting emergency operations there.

No serious injuries or fatalities had been reported in the, said Bucks County spokesman Chris Edwards.

IRS down for a month

On the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, about 6,200 people had been evacuated, according to Gov. Jon Corzine, who flew over affected areas.

In Washington, D.C., hit by flooding earlier in the week, flood damage forced the closing of the Internal Revenue Service headquarters building for at least 30 days, officials said Thursday.

They said the shutdown would not affect IRS service and enforcement operations.

In New York, about 1,500 people were evacuated from four counties Wednesday night, said Sharon Aswad, director of emergency services for the local Red Cross chapter.

That included more than 100 people evacuated from Chenango County because of rising water, according to the sheriff. Water levels there were at about 27 feet, about 14 feet above normal levels, authorities said.

Thirteen counties were under a disaster declaration.

In Binghamton, New York, where the Chenango River flows into the Susquehanna, 15,000 people were evacuated as the water rose Tuesday and Wednesday .Mayor Matthew Ryan credited flood walls with saving the city even though some neighborhoods remained under several feet of water. (Watch Binghamton's rivers overflow their banks -- 1:30)

In Montgomery County, Maryland, more than 2,000 evacuated residents were not allowed to return home Thursday because the waters were slow in receding, authorities said.

Some have returned home despite warnings against it, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesman Brian Geraci said.

"If you go back, you go back at your own risk," he said.

An 8-year-old girl died in a creek in Alleghany County, Virginia, and a statewide emergency was declared because of flooding and other recent bad weather.

Susquehanna stays within levees

The Susquehanna crested Wednesday at 34.4 feet and by midmorning Thursday had dropped to about 31 feet, officials said. The city's levees were built to hold back water up to 41 feet high.

While that was cause for relief, many nearby rivers and creeks overflowed after days of rain, and flooding was also evident in areas outside the levees.

Forty-six counties were under a state of emergency, and 15,000 people were without power, along with several thousand without water. The area received a foot of rain in a 24-hour period, officials said Wednesday.

"Yesterday was a war zone in the northern tier of Pennsylvania," Rendell said. "We choppered out over a thousand people from rooftops, from second and third floors of their homes."

Andy Reno and his 19-year-old daughter, Angela, were among those who grabbed their valuables, especially family photos, and left their home near Solomon's Creek twice -- on Tuesday and again on Wednesday.

The family is used to the drill; the creek floods "a little too often," Angela Reno said. "It's to the point where I don't really panic anymore." (Watch a restaurant sink in an instant -- :42)

'No one knows how bad it is'

Wilkes-Barre upgraded its levee system after flooding in 1996. Luzerne County spokeswoman Kathy Bozinski said the evacuations were ordered mostly as a precaution.

"It was after the rains had stopped falling that the levees failed and caused problems in New Orleans" after Hurricane Katrina, said Stephen Bekanich, Luzerne County emergency management coordinator. "We didn't want to see if our levees were going to do the same thing."

Among the dead were a father and son who drowned in Luzerne County after the father jumped into rushing water to save his son. Another teenager drowned in Luzerne County while swimming in a high creek. And in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, an elderly man drowned when his car was swept away by floodwaters, officials said.

"No one knows how bad it is to be in a flood unless you're in it," Wilkes-Barre resident Jeanna Chopka said. "Every time it happens, you just die a little bit."

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