Image: Denny Spicher, Pedro Cardoso, Susan Fahey
Alex Brandon  /  AP
Denny Spicher, center, uses a garden hose to spray away residue with Pedro Cardoso, right, as they help neighbor Susan Fahey after flooding from the Susquehanna River, caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, on Saturday.
updated 9/10/2011 4:45:57 PM ET 2011-09-10T20:45:57

Tens of thousands of people forced from their homes in Pennsylvania were hoping to return and assess the damage Saturday as the Susquehanna River receded from some of the highest floodwaters ever seen from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, officials hoped to lift an evacuation order Saturday afternoon for about 70,000 residents in and around Wilkes-Barre. The level of the Susquehanna River had dropped to about 32 feet on Saturday morning and was expected to be back within its banks at about 29 feet, Luzerne County Commissioner Maryanne Petrilla said.

Story: Pa. flood mark revised; levees in 'extreme stress'

"We're asking people to be patient because we have a lot of logistics to work out with transportation and getting utilities turned on," Petrilla said. "We know people are anxious to get home, but we don't want them to go to a home that has no power or to an area that is still flooded."

The Susquehanna crested Thursday at nearly 42.7 feet in Wilkes-Barre, higher than the record set during catastrophic Hurricane Agnes in 1972, and at 25.7 feet in Binghamton, N.Y. The river reached a 15-year high of 32.4 feet Friday at the Conowingo Dam in northeastern Maryland.

At least 15 deaths have been blamed on Lee and its aftermath: seven in Pennsylvania, three in Virginia, one in Maryland, and four others killed when it came ashore on the Gulf Coast last week. President Barack Obama declared states of emergency in Pennsylvania and New York, opening the way for federal aid.

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Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan said officials were working on modifying evacuation orders issued in flood-prone neighborhoods so that people whose homes weren't flooded could return as early as Saturday. Some of the 20,000 evacuated Binghamton-area residents had begun returning Friday.

"We're going to redraw the lines to make sure anyone who should go back, can go back so they don't feel like they're doing anything wrong," Ryan said.

Ryan could not say when the orders would be lifted, noting that inspectors would need to check for any safety hazards from flooded gas and electric utilities.

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Most of the 1,000 residents of Port Deposit, Md., were told to evacuate because of flooding expected from the opening of flood gates at the Conowingo Dam to relieve pressure on the Susquehanna. Cecil County officials will decide when residents can return after a damage assessment Saturday afternoon, spokesman Mike Dixon said.

"This is going to take a while. There is still water in Port Deposit," Dixon said.

Video: Historic floods swallowing homes in Northeast (on this page)

In central Pennsylvania, a nighttime curfew remained in effect in flood-stricken parts of Harrisburg. One person was arrested for looting, Mayor Linda Thompson said.

Ellie Martindale, a retired nurse who has lived in Harrisburg's riverfront neighborhood of Shipoke for 30 years, was one of the first residents to return Saturday since city officials ordered an evacuation Thursday.

Because her home is elevated, built over a first-floor garage, Martindale said the damage was minimal — mainly mud washed in by about 4 feet of river water that also ruined the drywall in an entranceway leading out of the garage.

Video: 'I was afraid it was going to kill somebody' (on this page)

"The mud is on the floor and on any surface it could settle," she said. "It's lovely stuff. It clings."

Martindale said she plans to remain in a downtown hotel until her house is cleaned up — hopefully only a few days more.

___

Walters reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press writers Martha Raffaele and Ron Todt in Philadelphia and Alex Dominguez in Port Deposit, Md., contributed to this report.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: 'I was afraid it was going to kill somebody'

Photos: Flooding in northeast US

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  1. Floodwaters from the Susquehanna River partially submerge homes in West Pittston, Pa., on Friday, Sept. 9. Days of rainfall from what had been Tropical Storm Lee inundated a wide portion of Pennsylvania and other northeastern states Thursday, pouring into basements and low-lying homes and forcing tens of thousands of people to seek higher ground. At least 11 deaths have been blamed on Lee and its remnants. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A 'Swings Coffee' van lays along the banks of Cameron Run, in Alexandria, Va., on Sept. 9, after it was caught in floodwaters on Thursday night. (Cliff Owen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A National Guardsman carries a dog named Charlie as residents are rescued from the Susquehanna River in West Pittston, Pa., on Sept. 9. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The ramps from Route 42 going on and off Route 11 in Bloomsburg, Pa., disappear into the floodwaters from Fishing Creek which cover Route 11 on Sept. 8. (Jimmy May / Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The roadway is buckled at the off ramp of the Route 322 East Hersheypark interchange in Derry Township, Pa., on Sept. 8. (Dan Gleiter / The Patriot-News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rich McDave, Chad Bowman, Deb Bowman, and Rebecca Cummins ride out in a motorboat after helping Rob Jackson remove valuables from his deceased parents' home in Goldsboro, Pa., on Sept. 8. (Chris Dunn / York Daily Record via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Airplanes sit on the west of the runway at the Bloomsburg Airport, in Bloomsburg, Pa., as the Susquehanna River inundates the airport on Sept. 8. (Jimmy May / Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Elaine Delzeit, center, ties sandbags next to rising floodwaters in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Sept. 8. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. From the top of the image, the second and the sixth home in the 900 block of West Main Street in Bloomsburg, Pa., have been moved off their foundations by floodwaters from Fishing Creek, on Sept. 8. (Jimmy May / Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The flooded Little Conewago Creek blocked the Susquehanna Trail in York County, Pa., on Sept. 7. (Bil Bowden / York Dispatch) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Floodwaters from Chickies Creek traps vehicles, blocking Route 72 on Thursday Sept. 8, 2011 in Manheim, Pa. The Pennsylvania National Guard was called in to help with evacuations and to transport emergency workers. (Dan Marschka / Lancaster Newspapers via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Members of Cambria County Water Rescue, help Donna Macloed out of the boat after rescuing her, from her home in Swatara Township, Pa. on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Late the night before, the flood waters of the Swatara Creek started pouring into Macloed's house but it was too dark for her to evacuate. The Cambria County Water Rescue unit was dispatched to the area in anticipation of rising water and expects to remain busy thru the weekend. (Daniel Shanken / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. View of the Susquehanna River from the fifth floor of the Guard Insurance Building Thursday, September 8, 2011, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The Susquehanna is projected to crest in the northeastern part of the state between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday at 41 feet - the same height as the levee system protecting riverfront communities including Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, officials said. More than 100,000 residents were ordered to flee the rising Susquehanna River on Thursday. (Mark Moran / The Citizens' Voice via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Jorge Garcia bails rainwater from his row boat in preparation for the expected cresting of the Passaic River following an overnight storm, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011 in Wayne, N.J. Residents along the Passaic River are still cleaning up after Irene with the remnants of Lee expected to drop anywhere from 2 to 5 inches of rain. Forecasters say New Jersey's streams and rivers remain at or in flood stage. (Julio Cortez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Playground equipment is submerged in Port Deposit, Md., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, as rainfall from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee causes flooding along the East Coast.The National Weather Service predicted rain would continue to fall heavily across the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states through Thursday with anywhere from 4 to 7 more inches falling and up to 10 inches in isolated pockets. Flood watches and warnings were in effect from Maryland to New England. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Wilkes-Barre evacuees Kim R. and her daughter Arianna J., 5, rest on their cot at the G.A.R. High School shelter location in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Nearly 100,000 people from New York to Maryland were ordered to flee the rising Susquehanna River on Thursday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped more rain across the Northeast, closing major highways and socking areas still recovering from Hurricane Irene. (Kristen Mullen / The Citizens' Voice via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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