Remnants of tropical storm Nicole wallop East Coast with huge rainfall

Tropical storm Nicole and her aftermath dumped jaw-dropping quantities of rain on the East Coast, including 10 inches in 24 hours in parts of Pennsylvania. Wilmington, N.C., was worst-hit, with 22.5 inches in five days.

Gary Hershorn/Reuters
A woman walks through Times Square as a massive rain storm drenched New York Friday.

Homeowners from North Carolina to Vermont will spend the weekend cleaning up from the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole, which dumped rain-forest quantities of precipitation on their communities over several days.

Some of the eye-popping totals include 22.5 inches of rain in five days in Wilmington, N.C., 10.5 inches of rain in 24 hours in Moscow, Pa., and 9.5 inches of rain in Jim Thorpe, Pa., in the same time period. The heavy rain began even before Nicole swept inland from the Atlantic.

“Some places have seen three months of rain in one day,” says Alex Sosnowski, a senior meteorologist at in State College, Pa. “In North Carolina it’s more like five or six months worth of rain in the past five days.”

The deluge has led to major flooding in such places as Waterbury, Vt., Delhi, N.Y., and Bertie County, N.C., according to the National Weather Service. At least eight fatalities, all traffic-related, are attributed to the storm waters, according to wire service reports.

Seven of the deaths were in North Carolina, where officials are asking residents to remain off the local roads. At the peak of the flooding on Thursday, the state had closed 150 roads, says Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Emergency Response Team in Raleigh.

“There have been a lot of helicopter and aquatic rescues,” she says. “We’re telling people if they see water running across a road, turn around, don’t drown.”

As the first step in determining if the federal government will need to step in to provide assistance, FEMA, at the request of state governors, has sent liaison officers to Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

The main form of government assistance would be emergency help for food and shelter. If President Obama declares enough damage has taken place, FEMA can provide up to $28,000 per household in individual expenses for emergency medical needs, food, and emergency shelter. The Small Business Administration also is often available to offer low interest loans.

On Thursday, Gov. Bev Purdue of North Carolina declared a state of emergency in anticipation of damage from the storms. Once the rivers subside early next week, Ms. Jarema says the state expects to get officials out to tour the damaged areas and determine if they need federal assistance.

That day Mr. Obama signed a one year extension to the federal flood insurance program. Had the program not been renewed by Congress and signed by the president, some 5.4 million policyholders nationwide would have been without protection. The timing of the renewal was a drop of good news for policyholders living in the path of Nicole.

However, David Maurstad, a former administrator of the National Flood Insurance Program, says that historically the percentage of people with the insurance, even those in high-risk areas, is not very good.

He says a good rule of thumb is that among people living in an area that has been declared a federal disaster, 50 percent of the residents subsequently participate in the program. “That’s not very good,” he says.

Anyone with a federally insured mortgage living in an area with a 1 percent chance of a flood is required to have federal flood insurance. Two years ago, after the Midwest floods that lasted several weeks and caused tens of billions of dollars in damages only 10 percent of the people in those high-risk areas had flood insurance, Mr. Maurstad says.

“People are either willing to take the financial burden or are taking the ostrich approach and hope it does not happen to them,” he says.

The largest payout for the federal program was after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, when it paid out $16 billion. That was significantly more money than the program had in the way of reserves. The program borrowed the money from the US Treasury.

However, Maurstad, now national director of Water Policy and Planning at PBS&J, an engineering and design company based in Tampa, Fla., says since Katrina the program has had enough money to pay claims. He expects that will also be true this year despite the recent flooding.

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