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."
To the south in Broome County, officials told residents of Conklin, nearly wiped out by flooding in April 2005, to be ready to evacuate if the Susquehanna River flooded as expected.
A flood watch was in effect through Thursday afternoon in soggy Vermont. Parts of the state are still recovering from massive damage inflicted by floodwaters from the remnants of Irene, which was a tropical storm by the time it swept over the area.
Swift water rescue teams are on call, and residents should be ready to evacuate if rivers rise fast, said Vermont Emergency Management spokesman Mark Bosma.
Irene hit upstate New York and Vermont particularly hard, with at least 12 deaths in those areas and dozens of highways damaged or washed out. Several communities in Vermont were cut off entirely and required National Guard airdrops to get supplies.
In its trudge up the coast from the Carolinas to Maine, Irene was blamed for at least 46 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
As the remnants of Lee spread over the area, flood watches or warnings were in place through Thursday night for much of Pennsylvania. About 3,000 residents along the Solomon Creek in Wilkes-Barre were ordered to evacuate due to quickly rising waters, but the creek crested about 4 feet below flood stage. Rain from Irene also led to evacuations there last week.
Amtrak reported service disruptions in Pennsylvania between Philadelphia and Harrisburg because of fallen trees on the tracks and damage to the overhead power lines.
In New Jersey, where many residents were still cleaning up after Irene, the remnants of Lee were expected to drop anywhere from 2 to 5 inches of rain. Major flooding was forecast on Wednesday for the Passaic River, which breached its banks during Irene and caused serious damage.
On New York's Long Island, heavy rain and winds knocked out power to more than 9,000 utility customers for several hours on Tuesday.
More than 10 inches of rain had fallen by Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tenn., which had its driest August ever, with barely a drop of rain. The rain was a blessing for some farmers amid a summer drought.Comment on this story
"Obviously we would like to have this a while earlier," said Brant Crowder, who manages 600 acres of the McDonald Farm in the Sale Creek community north of Chattanooga, Tenn. "It's been hot and dry the last two months."
In Gulf Shores, Ala., chunks of tar as large as baseballs washed up on the beach. Samples were being sent for testing to determine if they were from last year's BP oil spill.
Meanwhile, in the open Atlantic, Hurricane Katia brought rough surf to the East Coast but was not expected to make landfall in the U.S. Tropical Storm Maria also formed Wednesday far out in the Atlantic, but it was too soon to tell if and where it might make landfall.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Michael Hill and Rik Stevens in Albany, N.Y.; John Curran in Montpelier, Vt.; Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa.; and Bill Poovey in Chattanooga.