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Thousands told to flee storm-swollen river

Nearly 100,000 people from New York to Maryland were ordered to flee the rising Susquehanna River yesterday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped more rain across the Northeast, closing major highways and socking areas still recovering from Tropical Storm Irene.

At Binghamton, the wide river broke a flood record and flowed over retaining walls downtown as more than 8 inches of rain fell in some areas. Road closures effectively sealed the city off to outside traffic as emergency responders scrambled to evacuate holdouts who didn't heed warnings to leave neighborhoods.

"The situation is dire," Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan said. "It's the worst flooding in the history of Binghamton at least since the flood walls were built in the 1930s and '40s.

"It's going to get worse," said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who urged residents to heed evacuate orders rather than wait until the flood danger is obvious.

Most of the people ordered to evacuate their homes were about 80 miles downstream in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where the river was projected to crest later yesterday at 41 feet -- the same height as the levee system, officials said. Residents were ordered to leave by 4 p.m.

Evacuation orders were issued Wednesday to 20,000 people in Binghamton and neighboring communities along the Susquehanna. More than 70,000 residents in Wilkes-Barre and Kingston were told to leave.

Water levels along much of the Susquehanna were expected to be at their highest since 1972, when Hurricane Agnes devastated the river basin.

Roads and highways closed around the Northeast, including sections of New York's Interstate 88, which follows the Susquehanna's path.

Wet weather followed by Tropical Storm Irene and its remnants have saturated the soil across the Northeast, leaving water no place to go but into already swollen creeks and rivers.

The National Weather Service predicted 4 to 10 inches of rain across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast through yesterday. Flood watches and warnings were in effect from Maryland to New England.

The service said the river level in Binghamton is above 25 feet, higher than the record set in 2006 and more than 11 feet above flood stage. It's expected to rise another foot or so.

Binghamton University was serving as an evacuation center and reported about 1,000 people were there Thursday morning.

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