Eastern floods scatter residents as worst awaits

Three days of rain overflow rivers again as Eastern region surveys, anticipates damage

Published March 31, 2010 2:16PM (EDT)

Flooding across the Northeast forced hundreds of residents from their homes by Wednesday, knocked out sewage plants, and snarled traffic on major East Coast routes as roads transformed into a soaked labyrinth of detours and closures.

As three days of record-breaking rains tapered to a drizzle, forecasters warned the worst of widespread flooding from Maine to New York was still ahead as rivers were yet to crest -- for the second time in a month.

In Rhode Island, a coastal state enduring the most severe damage, residents were experiencing the worst flooding in more than 100 years. Stretches of Interstate 95, the main route linking Boston to New York, were closed and could remain shut for days.

Non-essential state workers in Rhode Island were given the day off, and state officials asked schools and private businesses to consider closing, as well. Officials in water-weary Warwick asked residents to avoid washing clothes or flushing the toilet after a water and sewage treatment plant failed. The state also asked people to stay off highways and local roads.

"None of us alive have seen the flooding that we are experiencing now or going to experience," Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri said. "This is unprecedented in our state's history."

The new rains came as residents were still recovering from a storm two weeks ago that dumped as much as 10 inches on the region. President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration late Tuesday for Rhode Island, ordering federal aid for disaster relief and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts.

The havoc was spread throughout the region as National Guard troops went into action in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and residents evacuated as floodwaters rose.

More than 100 people were ordered to leave an apartment complex in Milford, N.H, and heavy rains in Connecticut caused the earth under a Middletown apartment complex parking lot to give way, leaving two buildings teetering over the ravine of a river. Residents were taken to an emergency shelter at a high school.

Authorities also evacuated 50 units at a condominium complex in Jewett City in eastern Connecticut because a sewage treatment plant next door was under at least 4 feet of water.

In Massachusetts, the biggest concerns were in the southeastern part of the state, where a highway was closed, said state Emergency Management Agency spokesman Scott MacLeod. A bridge gave out in Freetown, isolating about 1,000 residents, he said.

Records fell across the region.

The more than 14 inches of rain that fell this month in Boston broke the previous March record of 11, according to the National Weather Service. New Jersey and parts of New York City also set March records. And by Tuesday afternoon, Providence had recorded more than 15 inches of rain in March, becoming the rainiest of any month on record. Portland, Maine, recorded more than 11 inches this month, breaking the old record of nearly 10 set in 1953.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday that the city was facing "dire circumstances." A sewer pump station there gave out early Wednesday, and about 130 homes had been evacuated.

The Pawtuxet River flooded basements in at least one Cranston neighborhood and crept higher Wednesday. The river crested earlier this month at around 15 feet and was expected to surpass that this week.

Authorities said the flooding was unprecedented, so they didn't know what damage to expect. One resident hung a sign: "FEMA + State + City of Cranston. Buy our houses."

"Right now it's bad and getting worse," said Brian Dupont, a real estate broker who owns two homes on the street. He feared the dozens of sandbags protecting the homes would offer minimal protection.

Standing water pooled on or rushed across roads in the region, making driving treacherous and forcing closures. Adjutant General Robert Bray, the commander of the Rhode Island National Guard, said the area south of Providence was like a "maze" with drivers repeatedly getting stuck.

In Maine, a dam in Porter let loose Tuesday morning, sending a torrent of water down country roads. No evacuations or injuries were reported.


Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Bob Salsberg in Wayland, Mass., Stephen Singer and Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Conn., Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, and Samantha Henry in Newark, N.J.

By Eric Tucker

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