Rain-swollen East Coast waterways slowly recede

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Hundreds of northern New Jersey residents faced the prospect of evacuations due to rising flood waters early Sunday, while rain-swollen waterways were slowly receding elsewhere along the East Coast, allowing dozens of other flood-weary residents to return home.

The Passaic River was expected to crest early Sunday, and officials believe the surging waters will quickly make low-lying areas uninhabitable. If that happens, residents could be kept away from their homes for several days.

Among the towns expected to be hardest hit Sunday were Little Falls and Paterson, where residents were being urged to find temporary housing, either with family and friends or at any of several shelters in the area. The river was expected to crest in Little Falls at nearly 5 feet above flood stage, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is not a game. This is real. If you can, please seek higher ground now,” Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones told residents on Saturday, warning them that it could take at least two days for the river to recede completely.

Jones said he expects that roughly 1,500 residents will have to be evacuated from their homes on Sunday, noting that six fire department rescue boats will be available to help if needed.

Jones was among dozens of officials from Maryland to Maine who were monitoring rivers, creeks and streams that had either overflowed their banks or were expected to do so, causing more hardships for communities where major flooding forced hundreds of people from their homes.

But by late Saturday afternoon, many people who had been evacuated earlier in the week or left voluntarily were returning home to survey the damage and try to resume normal lives.

The only major problems appeared to be in portions of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. And Mother Nature appeared to be giving the region a break: The National Weather Service said no major rains were expected there for several days, giving those areas a chance to dry out after the flood waters ebbed.

That provided little comfort to evacuated residents who remained in shelters on Saturday, unsure of when they would be able to return home.

“This is getting to be a regular occurrence, a greatly unwelcome regular occurrence,” said Mary Beth Thompson of Little Falls, who was temporarily staying with friends in central New Jersey. “This is my third time flooded out, and it seems to make me more anxious each time.”

In New England, there were major concerns that rising waters could break up river ice, creating ice jams that can cause flooding. The Coast Guard said it started its springtime ice-breaking ritual Saturday on Maine’s Kennebec River, and will continue through Tuesday to reduce the risk of property damage.

Meanwhile, flooding along the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania caused some road closures Saturday and sent water into some basements, but no serious problems were reported.

In Pittsburgh, waters that flooded low-lying sections of Interstate 376 along the Monongahela River started receding by early Saturday afternoon. Police had set up detours around the area earlier in the day for motorists coming in for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

The flooding has been blamed for at least two deaths, one in Pennsylvania on Thursday and another in Ohio on Friday.

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Associated Press writers Samantha Henry in Woodland Park, N.J. and Ron Todt in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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