TRENTON, N.J. – Even as they cleaned up the muck left behind by some of the Northeast's worst flooding in decades, some riverside residents wondered Friday how long it would be before they would be at it again.
Life along the swollen Delaware River was frustrating — thousands evacuated, roads and bridges closed, utilities crippled and tens of millions of dollars in flood damage. It was at times bizarre — with a 4-foot alligator left behind in a Trenton apartment and foot-long carp flopping around on the streets of a nearby neighborhood.
But with storms having flooded many of the same homes and businesses in 2004 and 2005, there was a renewed call to finally do something about it.
"Our basement is destroyed — again — exactly what happened last time," Lambertville resident Dan Jacquemin said as he shined a flashlight at muddy water that still filled half his basement.
After touring areas along the Delaware, New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine said he would take another look at flood task force report, released this year, that calls for redrawing maps to include more land in flood plains, further limiting development in those areas and having government buy out homes in especially flood-prone areas.
Upriver in Easton, Pa., residents along Bushkill Drive — one of the most vulnerable blocks in the city, were similarly flood-weary.
Cliff Weasner hosed mud from his home's second floor as he motioned to a towering maple tree in his still-submerged back yard. "That tree is probably worth more than my house," he lamented.
Buildings along the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers were among those battered worst by the this week's flooding, which forced tens of thousands to evacuate and left at least 20 people dead in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and Virginia.
"We should do what we can immediately ... to get people back to some degree of normalcy," said U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who toured some flooded areas Friday. "But we've got to think about the longer-term picture, how we deal with these things in as quick a fashion as possible."
The politics could be complicated, but the science of flood damage is pretty simple, said Jonathan Husch, professor of geological and environment sciences at Rider University.
"Streams flood," he said. "That's what they're supposed to do."
People make it worse by building on floodplains, and control measures like levees can make flooding even worse downstream, he said.
"I feel for these people, I really do," Husch said. "But the science side of me says, 'OK, how much of a hint do you need to get?'"
Corzine on Friday formally asked President Bush to declare a major disaster area in New Jersey. His counterparts in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia have done the same, seeking federal aid for people hurt by flooding, and Bush declared eight Pennsylvania counties disaster areas Friday evening.
Scores of roads in the region were rendered impassable by flooding, but some had been reopened by Friday and government officials and travel experts predicted mostly minor headaches over the busy holiday weekend. One exception was Interstate 88, where two truckers died this week after floodwaters ripped out the highway over a culvert.
In the nation's capital, a popular Independence Day destination, most museums, monuments, memorials and attractions that were closed after flooding early in the week have reopened.
In Philadelphia, however, the Independence Day regatta on the Schuylkill River was canceled for the first time in 126 years because of debris, high water and fast currents.
In Maryland, water continued to leak through the 65-foot-high earthen dam that holds back Lake Needwood in Rockville, but the water was receding and about 2,200 people who had been evacuated were allowed to return Thursday night.
The Delaware, which peaked Thursday evening in Trenton at just over 25 feet, was not expected to fall below flood stage — about 19 feet — until very early Saturday morning.
The city's water filtration system was restarted around 3 p.m. Friday and was operating normally, Mayor Douglas Palmer said Friday night. The plant had been shut down Wednesday because of debris in the river.
"We have to continue to monitor the water filtration system because there's so much debris and sediment in the water, but it seems to be running OK," Palmer said.
Many residents along the river had no idea when their homes would be inhabitable again. Even after the water was removed, electricity and gas still needed to be restored.
Matt Skrebel helped pump water from six Lambertville homes — including his own. He removed all the furniture and appliances he could before the flood, but couldn't stop the extensive damage to his basement and first floor.
"I just went through this last April, and it was a little over $30,000," Skrebel said. He planned to replace his furnace, washer, dryer, carpeting and drywall yet again