TRENTON, N.J. – Some residents of cities and towns flooded by the Delaware River struggled to clean up debris and waterlogged possessions Saturday but many others were still waiting to return to their homes.
Thousands of New Jersey residents were evacuated on Wednesday and Thursday, joining thousands of others who fled rising water across the river in Pennsylvania and upstream in New York state following a record rain storm.
At least 20 deaths in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and Virginia were blamed on the deluge.
People still out of their homes were waiting for local and state inspectors to give them the go-ahead as the high water moved downstream, said Capt. Jerome Hatfield of New Jersey’s Office of Emergency Management.
“We started the process yesterday up north, and people are getting back in today, though not in large numbers,” he said.
The National Weather Service said the river had fallen below flood stage throughout the region by early Saturday.
Police and fire teams worked on Saturday to pump water out of basements in The Island, a Trenton neighborhood bordering the Delaware that has absorbed the worst of three major floods in the area since the fall of 2004.
Danny Thomas, an Island resident through all three floods, said the damage did not look as severe as last year’s, when some people had 5 feet of water in their basements.
“And no, I’m not selling,” Thomas said. “When I was in Virginia I lived on the Potomac, and when I was in Uganda I lived on the Nile, so I must like living near water.”
Upriver in Warren County, Harmony Township residents George and Cathy Kelchner had started cleaning their home, which sits within 150 yards of the Delaware.
“It’s the same routine,” George Kelchner said. “An inch of water is like 2 feet of water. It doesn’t make any difference because once you get the floor and carpets ruined, it’s still the same amount of work to replace them.”
President Bush issued a disaster declaration Saturday for eight New York counties struck by the flooding, state officials said. He declared eight Pennsylvania counties disaster areas Friday evening.