HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Governor Tom Corbett today said Pennsylvania is now at the highest level for state disaster response as a result of the torrential overnight rainfall and subsequent flooding in central and northeastern Pennsylvania.
The emergency level is the state's highest since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Corbett said.
"Almost every town along the Susquehanna River has experienced flooding, including Towanda, Danville, Bloomsburg, Wilkes-Barre and Sunbury,'' Corbett said during a media briefing at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Harrisburg this afternoon.
"In Hershey, the Swatara Creek has risen four times beyond its flood level,'' Corbett said. "Some flood gauges cannot give us reliable data because they are now so far underwater.
"We face a public health emergency because sewage treatment plants are underwater and no longer working,'' Corbett said. "Flood water is toxic and polluted. If you don't have to be in it, keep out.''
Expect road closures, mass transit delays and possibly weakened roads and bridges, Corbett warned, advising citizens to stay home and stay out of the water.
Overnight, more than 500 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard were placed on alert to help flood-damaged areas, along with teams of volunteers with the Swift Water Rescue Craft.
"Right now state and local officials are actively responding to this disaster,'' Corbett said. "As the water recedes we will assess the damage to our communities, roads, bridges, and water and sewage plants. We are still responding,'' Corbett said, but at the same time, officials are "already preparing for recovery.''
At least three deaths have been attributed to the storm and thousands of people have been evacuated. Flood warnings for creeks, streams and rivers stretch from north to south along the eastern half of the state.
Hundreds of roads across the state have been closed because of flooding, mudslides and rockslides, as well as stranding motorists and residents. Specific information about major state road closures is available by calling 511 or by www.511pa.com.
Many counties have opened up shelters in high schools or churches. Anyone who needs to go to a shelter can find out where to go by contacting their municipal emergency management office. To find contact information for your township, borough or city, look in the government section (Blue Pages) of your local telephone directory or search online.
In addition to driving cautiously, motorists should also expect delays and allow extra time in their travel schedules.
When it's raining or when roads are wet, motorists should also turn on their headlights and increase the following distance between vehicles. Pennsylvania law dictates that headlights must be turned on any time a vehicle's wipers are on.
Residents are encouraged to visit www.ReadyPA.org - a state resource that encourages citizens to take three basic steps before an emergency or natural disaster:
•Be Informed: know what threats Pennsylvania and your community face.
•Be Prepared: have an emergency kit with at least three days' worth of essentials at your home, including food, one gallon of water per person per day, medications and specialized items such as baby or pet supplies. Create an emergency plan so family members know where to meet if everyone is separated when an incident occurs.
•Be Involved: Pennsylvanians have a long history of helping one another in times of need. Specialized training and volunteer opportunities are available so citizens can help others in their community in a disaster.
Information such as checklists for emergency kits and templates for emergency plans, as well as other information and volunteer opportunities, is available at www.ReadyPA.org or by calling 1-888-9-READYPA (1-888-973-2397).
Cory Angell or Ruth A. Miller, PEMA; 717-651-2009
Janet Kelley, Governor's Office; 717-783-1116