Susquehanna floods Friday

The Conowingo Dam had 43 gates open as of 10:30 a.m. Friday morning and anticipated opening more before the end of the day. (NICOLE MUNCHEL AEGIS STAFF, Patuxent Homestead / September 7, 2011)

Harford and Cecil counties are still preparing for what officials say could be more severe flooding from the Susquehanna River below Conowingo Dam.

But, Harford offiicials also got some good news late Friday morning that the worst flooding expected to occur Saturday morning may not be as bad as was originally feared.

Rain continued to pelt the region Friday, as remnants of Tropical Storm Lee remained stalled over the Susquehanna drainage area. Flash flood warnings were still in effect in areas of eastern Pennsylvania and lower upstate New York which are drained by the river, according to the National Weather Service.

Following an 11 a.m. Friday briefing at the county's Emergency Operations Center north of Bel Air, Harford County government spokesman Bob Thomas said officials from the Conowingo Dam said they expect to have 44 floodgates open when the Susquehanna River is expected to crest at the dam around 8 a.m. Saturday. The dam is owned and operated by Exelon Power.


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"From that point they [Exelon] expect the water to begin to recede up through 6 p.m.," Thomas added.

Though the county remains under a state of emergency declared Thursday afternoon by County Executive David Craig, Thomas said information obtained from the National Weather Service leads Harford emergency officials to believe "the situation will be progressively improving."

Thomas also said staffing at the EOC would be scaled back starting Friday afternoon, with fewer county people on duty. They will continue to be joined by staff from the Maryland Emergency Operations Agency and the City of Havre de Grace.

Thomas said he did not know when evacuations ordered Thursday will be canceled so residents of Havre de Grace can return.

Conowingo Dam is located about seven miles upriver from Havre de Grace, and Saturday's expected flood crest at the dam will be an hour or so before high tide from the Chesapeake Bay entering the lower river reaches Havre de Grace at 9:19 a.m. Saturday, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The relationship of the high tide to the amount of water moving down the river is a factor in what may or may not happen in the city Saturday morning.

Thursday, Harford officials were told by Exelon Power that it was possible all of the dam's 50 available floodgates would be open by 11 a.m. Friday.

That didn't happen, however, nor does it appear, based on the Friday briefing, that the maximum number of gates will be open Saturday morning, as had also been predicted.

There were 43 gates open as of early Friday morning; however, further updates were not available at 11 a.m. The Conowingo spill phone hotline kept throwing back busy signals, and Exelon's Conowingo spokesman could not be contacted. The spill hotline update at 7:45 a.m. did say it was anticipated 42 gates would be open in the next two hours.

"Right now we're kind of business as usual, we're just watching the flooding closely and trying to react," Harford Emergency Operations Manager Rick Ayers said shortly after 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Across the river, residents of Port Deposit on the Cecil County shore were told to leave the town Thursday and many of the 700 who live in the town did. Some residents, however, refused to evacuate and said they were staying behind.

Most low lying areas right along the river were flooded in Havre de Grace Friday morning, shortly after high tide at 8:35 a.m. All the city's parks were ordered closed Thursday in anticipation of flooding.

What the county had said were "mandatory" evacuations from low lying areas Havre de Grace on the Harford County shore of the river were completed early Friday morning, emergency officials said.

"We completed all of our mandatory evacuations in Havre de Grace about 1:30 this [Friday] morning," Ayers said. Most people who left went to homes of relatives or friends.

A few did use a shelter the county set up earlier in the day Thursday at Aberdeen High School. Ayers said 10 people stayed at the high school Thursday night.

Utility service cut off