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East Coast keeping close eye on swollen waterways

TRENTON, N.J. — Hundreds of flood-weary East Coast residents were returning home Saturday as rain-swollen rivers and other waterways were slowly receding to normal levels.

But officials say it might be a few more days before some people — especially those in hard-hit areas of northern New Jersey — will be able to get back home. And others may need to be evacuated if some major regional waterways crest as expected this morning.

"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 Passaic River to completely recede.

Jones said he expects that roughly 1,500 residents will have to be evacuated from their homes today, and that shelters were being set up and six fire department rescue boats would be available to help residents if needed.

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

But by late Saturday afternoon, the only major problem areas 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 waterways drop back below flood levels.

But that provided little relief for evacuated residents who remained in shelters Saturday, unsure of when they would be able to return home and how much damage the floods had caused.

New York state from Manhattan to the Canadian border was under a flood watch as heavy rains and melting snow closed roads. And there were major concerns in New England 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 the Kennebec River, and will continue through Tuesday to reduce the risk of property damage.

The flooding was blamed for at least two deaths. A 74-year-old Pennsylvania man's car was swept into Swatara Creek on Thursday in Pine Grove, about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia. And a woman drowned in Ohio on Friday after getting out of her car in a ditch in Williams County.

Hundreds rescued in North Dakota blizzard

The North Dakota Highway Patrol said about 800 people were rescued from vehicles stuck on ice-slicked roads and in drifting snow after a blizzard struck the state, creating white-out conditions. Lt. Jody Skogen said only minor injuries were reported after pileups and crashes that left more than 500 cars abandoned on roads. The town of Medina saw its population of 335 double with 400 stranded drivers who were brought to a church and a school there. North Dakota National Guard spokesman Capt. Dan Murphy said 70 soldiers used military trucks that could plow through huge snowdrifts to collect scores of stranded drivers and take them "to any warm building that was available." He said the rescue effort had ended but soldiers remained on duty, patrolling highway entrances.

East Coast keeping close eye on swollen waterways 03/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2011 8:26pm]
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