TRENTON, N.J. – The muddy floodwater swirling through riverside towns across the Northeast was receding Friday, and residents began the arduous tasks of clearing away debris left by five days of heavy rain and trying to tally the cost of the flood.
The damage was expected to run well into the tens of millions, with $2 million in repairs to the National Archives building alone.
Most states still had no estimate Friday, and several riverside towns were still partially submerged. At least 16 deaths in four states had been blamed on the deluge, and about 6,000 people who fled homes along the Delaware River in northern New Jersey were advised Friday to wait at least another day before returning.
"It's not over yet," New Jersey state police Sgt. Jeanne Hengemuhle said Friday. "You don't know what's in the water, under the water. You don't know what it's done to your home."
In Trenton, where neighborhoods remained flooded and thousands displaced, the mayor on Friday called the damage "tremendous." Foot-long carp could be seen swimming down one flooded residential street.
For many along the Delaware River, it was the third time in two years that floodwaters invaded, putting basements underwater and sending muddy water flowing into stores.
"It's a disaster," said Herbert Sandor, whose street-level shops in New Hope, Pa., were spared, but whose basement offices were under 5 feet of water.
He knows all too well what comes next: bulldozing the mud from the parking lot, getting the power turned on and buying new carpet.
Though the National Weather Service had a flood warning in effect until Saturday morning, the forecast gave residents some hope the worst was over. The outlook Friday included some thunderstorms, but most of the region was expected to be dry.
Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said Friday he would ask for a federal disaster declaration for the hardest hit areas of the state to help "rebuild lives, property and infrastructure."
State officials didn't expect a final disaster cost estimate in Maryland for several days.
In New York, Gov. George Pataki estimated at least $100 million of property damage. New Jersey Gov. John S. Corzine said the flood looked a lot like one last year that caused $30 million in damage. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell declared parts of the state a disaster. All three were also seeking federal help.
In Washington, D.C., where a National Archives theater was inundated and several other federal buildings shut down because of flooding, the General Services Administration was also still trying to determine the extent of the damage, when it might be repaired or how much it would cost, said spokesman Mike McGill.
Corzine and Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez planned to tour flood-damaged areas in New Jersey on Friday. Sen. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton planned to tour some of the flooded regions of upstate New York. Vermont was hit by heavy rain against Thursday that led to more flooding there.
The flooding this week was brought on by days of heavy rains that caused several rivers to swell. The Delaware River crested Thursday night at Trenton at 25.1 feet — 5 feet above flood stage — and wasn't expected to sink back below that level until early Saturday, Palmer said. The Susquehanna River crested at just over 34 feet at Wilkes-Barre, Pa. — below expectations and the 41-foot floodwall.
Along the swollen Delaware, officials closed 10 bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania because of high water. Though a a 117-mile stretch of the New York Thruway between Schenectady and Syracuse reopened Thursday, Amtrak service in much of the western part of New York remained shut down.
The Erie Canal from near Albany to east of Rochester was closed. Water was rushing so hard over a lock under repair in Amsterdam that it washed away construction trailers and knocked the lockkeeper's house off its foundation.
In and around Wilkes-Barre, an evacuation order covering up to 200,000 people was lifted Thursday when newly raised levees held back the raging Susquehanna. In Maryland, an evacuation order for 2,200 residents downstream from a dam in Rockville was lifted.
But others weren't as lucky. Officials cautioned residents in many communities to stay away from their homes until authorities determined gas and electricity are working properly and homes are structurally sound.
Almost 3,000 people remained in shelters in New York, where widespread problems with drinking water and power outages continued. In Trenton, Palmer said some residents might not be able to return until Tuesday. Drinking water was dwindling after the city's water filtration system was shut down because of debris in the Delaware, and Palmer said it would not restart until at least Friday.
"I want to move," said Jennifer Helmuth, who sweltered in a sport utility vehicle with her 16-month-old son and extended family outside a middle school serving as a shelter. "Away from the water. Away from this."
Deaths in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and New York have been blamed on the storms and the flooding. In New York's Sullivan County, searchers found the body of a 15-year-old girl whose house collapsed as she stood on the porch waiting to be rescued.
Searchers also found the bodies of two Maryland boys, ages 14 and 16, who were swept away earlier this week after they went to look at a rain-swollen waterway. Pennsylvania Health Department spokesman Troy Thompson said Friday that four additional deaths — nine in all in that state — had been tentatively linked to flooding.
Even as waist-high waters invaded streets, some tried to look on the bright side. In Johnson City, N.Y., Erin Davis and her boyfriend, Chris Newton, both 25, took a break from cleaning up with a short game of badminton.
"We were cleaning when I saw a tabletop float by with the rackets and birdies," Newton said. "We're just trying to make the best of a bad situation."