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Pennsylvania governor on flooding: 'We dodged a bullet'

Levees, flood walls hold back waters

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NEW HOPE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Residents in northeast Pennsylvania and New York are breathing sighs of relief Friday after flood walls and levees held their own against flooding that has killed at least 14 people in four states.

Officials predicted millions of dollars in damages and a massive cleanup.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell declared a state of emergency for about 40 counties to make state resources available to local governments, but was thankful Thursday that the damage wasn't worse.

"It appears that we have dodged a bullet," he said.

The swollen Delaware River in Pennsylvania crested Thursday, and the river level was falling on the Susquehanna River. An evacuation order covering about 200,000 people was lifted for Wilkes-Barre, after the city's $175 million levee system held back the river's rushing water. (Map)

The system was improved after severe flooding in 1996.

The Susquehanna crested Wednesday at 34.4 feet, and by midmorning Thursday had dropped to about 31 feet, officials said. The city's levees can hold up to 41 feet. While that was cause for relief, many rivers and creeks overflowed after days of rain. (Watch homes, businesses under water -- 2:14)

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

In Maryland, the bodies of two teen-age boys from the Keymar area were found Thursday 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 Michael White, 14, and Thomas Plunkard, 16.

"Everything else has quieted down," Dmuchowski said Thursday night. He said it was sunny Thursday, with no rain.

Officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents on the north side of Rockville in central Maryland, where Lake Needwood Dam was seeping.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch until early Friday for Montgomery County, where the dam is located.

Although the water level behind the dam was falling, more rain was possible Thursday night.

In Binghamton, New York, where 15,000 people were evacuated as the Susquehanna rose Tuesday and Wednesday, Mayor Matthew Ryan credited flood walls with saving the city, although some places remained under several feet of water. Thirteen counties in New York were under a disaster declaration.

High waters also struck other states.

In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine flew over affected areas and said about 6,200 people had been evacuated along the Delaware River. An 8-year-old girl died in a creek in Allegheny County, Virginia, and a statewide emergency was declared because of flooding and other recent bad weather. (Watch the raging Delaware River -- 1:29)

In the metropolitan Washington area, the Internal Revenue Service said flooding forced the agency to close its headquarters for at least 30 days, although officials said it would not affect IRS service and enforcement.

The storm-related deaths described by officials were:

  • In Pennsylvania: a father and son drowned in Luzerne County after the father jumped into rushing water to save his son; a teenager drowned in Luzerne County while swimming in a high creek; and two people died after their cars were swept away by floodwaters.
  • Three people died in New York; five in Maryland, including the two teens; and one in Virginia.
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