Sunday News, Paul Kuehnel, AP Photo/York Daily Record
WINDHAM, N.Y. — Northeastern residents still weary from the flooding wrought by Hurricane Irene braced Wednesday for the leftovers of Tropical Storm Lee, which brought welcome moisture to farmers in parched parts of the South on its slog northward.
New York positioned rescue workers, swift-water boats and helicopters with hoists to respond quickly in the event of flash flooding. Teams stood by in Vermont, which bore the brunt of Irene's remnants last week, and hundreds of Pennsylvania residents were told to flee a rising creek.
"Everybody's on alert," said Dennis Michalski, spokesman for the New York Emergency Management Office. "The good thing is, the counties are on alert, as they were for Irene, and people are more conscious."
Lee formed just off the Louisiana coast late last week and gained strength as it lingered in the Gulf for a couple of days. It dumped more than a foot of rain in New Orleans, testing the city's pump system for the first time in years, and trudged across Mississippi and Alabama.
Tornadoes spawned by Lee damaged hundreds of homes, and flooding knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people. Trees were uprooted and roads were flooded. Winds fanned wildfires in Louisiana and Texas, and the storm even kicked up tar balls on the Gulf Coast. At least four people died.
Heavy rain fell Wednesday morning on the already-battered town of Prattsville, on the northern edge of New York's Catskill Mountains, where residents were ready to evacuate as the Schoharie Creek escaped its banks and smaller streams showed significant flooding.
Flooding also led to voluntary evacuations in the Catskills town of Shandaken, and some schools in the Hudson Valley north of New York City closed or delayed start times.
In the rural Schoharie Valley west of Albany, officials were encouraging residents to find higher ground but hadn't yet ordered evacuations.
Along the road in Windham were several soggy, cardboard signs from last week's storm that said "Thank you for your help" and water turned red from the clay riverbed rushed over roads. As National Guard troops directed traffic, a crane dug into the upstream side of a culvert, trying to open it up to allow more water through.
"Now it's getting on my last nerves," said Carol Slater, 53, of Huntersfield, just outside Prattsville. She had left her job at a pharmaceutical company at 9 a.m. and was still not home three hours later as she navigated detours.
At noon, Prattsville was cut off, its main roads covered with water as public works crews tried to dredge the creeks to alleviate the flooding.
"It's kind of silly now, I'm caught between closed bridges," said Dawn Darling, 47, of Prattsville. She was advised to leave her home at 11:30 a.m. and was unsure when she could return.
Her husband, Patrick Darling, said they're trying to keep their sense of humor while dealing with a second week of flooding.
"We have stress, lots of stress," he said after using shovels to clear mud and debris from his neighbors' homes. "We've been shoveling our stress out."
Trash bins are still in the streets to collect debris left by Irene, streets remain muddy and houses are collapsed.
Several people said even if the call for mandatory evacuation comes, they won't go.
"We stayed here through Irene, we'll stay through this," said Doris Pasternak, 59, owner of the historic Prattsville Hotel and Tavern, where water rose up to 5 feet into the lower floor after Irene. "I have a hatch on the roof. I'm not moving. I'm just too old to pick up and go."
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