Hans Pennink, AP Photo
WINDHAM, N.Y. — Drenched and dispirited, East Coast residents recovering from Hurricane Irene were stuck under the chugging remnants of Tropical Storm Lee Wednesday, some of them grudgingly preparing to move to higher ground yet again as rivers rose.
From Maryland to New England, heavy rains swelled waterways, flooded highways and stretched emergency responders already dealing with cleanup from last week's punishing blow from Irene. Sodden ground gave rain nowhere to go but directly into streams, creeks and rivers that rushed a turbid red-brown past rural communities.
"Now it's getting on my last nerves," said Carol Slater, 53, of Huntersfield, N.Y., on the northern edge of New York's Catskill Mountains and just outside of hard-hit Prattsville.
The National Weather Service predicted heavy rain would continue across the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states through Thursday with anywhere from 4 to 7 more inches falling and up to 10 in isolated pockets. Flood watches and warnings were up throughout the region.
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.
By noon Wednesday, Prattsville was cut off, its main roads covered with water as public works crews tried to dredge the creeks to alleviate the flooding. Trash bins stood in the mud-caked streets to collect debris left by Irene and the wreckage of houses destroyed by the earlier storm still dotted the area.
Heavy rain fell and residents were ready to evacuate as the Schoharie Creek escaped its banks and smaller streams showed significant flooding.
"Businesses and residential areas were devastated before," Wayne Speenburgh, chairman of the Greene County Legislature, said of Prattsville. "Downtown, there's nobody living because there's no homes to live in."
In nearby Middleburgh, dozens of residents were evacuated from temporary shelters set up in schools, many for the third time since Irene hit. Many businesses remained empty but were adorned with hopeful signs — like the one at Hubie's Pizzeria — that they would reopen.
"It's encouraging," said James Kelley, 51, of Middleburgh. "A lot of people had given up last week, but with all the volunteers and help, it helps people re-energize."
Flooding also led to voluntary evacuations in the Catskills town of Shandaken, Rotterdam Junction near Albany, and a section of Schenectady along the Mohawk River. Some schools in the Hudson Valley north of New York City closed or delayed start times.
Along the road in Windham were several soggy, cardboard signs from last week's storm that said "Thank you for your help."
Patrick Darling said he and wife Dawn are 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."
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 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; no deaths were reported Wednesday. Irene was blamed for at least 46 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
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