New England flooding drowns homes and dreams
CRANSTON, R.I. (AP) – Flooding on a scale rarely seen in New England forced hundreds of people from their homes and businesses Wednesday, overwhelmed sewage systems and isolated communities as it washed out bridges and rippled across thoroughfares from Maine to Connecticut.
Three days of record-breaking rains tapered to a drizzle, then stopped before the waters in hard-hit Rhode Island finally crested. But authorities across New England warned that the flooding – far worse than an indundation two weeks ago in the same areas – could linger for days.
Rhode Island experienced what the governor called its worst flooding in more than 200 years. The swollen Pawtuxet River threatened to collapse a bridge in the town of Coventry. A stretch of the main East Coast highway, Interstate 95, shut down, and Amtrak suspended some trains on its busy Northeast lines.
Every resident of Rhode Island, a state of about 1 million, was asked to conserve water and electricity because of flooded sewage systems and electrical substations. The waters either stranded hundreds of people or sent them to shelters. Many of those who stayed behind appeared shell-shocked.
Angelo Padula Jr.’s auto restoration shop in West Warwick, Angelo Padula & Son Used Auto, stood in 10 feet of water from the Pawtuxet River – after 100 years in business, its likely death knell, Padula said.
“I think we’re all done,” he said. “If the federal government doesn’t give us disaster money, I don’t think we can ever come back from this. You’re talking millions and millions of dollars in these businesses. Now I know how the people in New Orleans felt.”
The flooding caps a month that set rainfall records across the region. Boston measured nearly 14 inches for March, breaking the previous record for the month, set in 1953. New Jersey, New York City and Portland, Maine, surpassed similar records. Providence registered its rainiest month on record, period, with a total of more than 15 inches of rain in March.
Gov. Don Carcieri called the flooding “unprecedented in our state’s history.” President Barack Obama had issued an emergency declaration late Tuesday for Rhode Island, ordering federal aid for relief and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate efforts.
In Coventry, police Col. Ronald Da Silva said that the abutments on a two-lane bridge over the Pawtuxet River had washed out and that the bridge was predicted to collapse. A neighborhood downstream evacuated as a precaution.
Town Manager Tom Hoover said the river had already eaten into part of a building and threatened to collapse more of it.
Two large shopping malls in Warwick flooded, and a security guard at one of them had to be rescued by boat. In a nod to the long road ahead of Rhode Islanders affected by the flood, IRS extended the tax filing deadline in the state to May 11.
Monica Bourgeois, 45, cried Wednesday morning as she stood outside her home in Cranston, where a sewer pump station gave out and hundreds of residents had evacuated by early Wednesday. The Pawtuxet had turned her lawn into a lake and flooded her basement with six feet of still-rising water.
“I have absolutely no idea how we’re going to pay for this,” she said. “I’m extremely, extremely worried. Do you know how much a new furnace costs? We’re just praying to God for some help.”
Similar concerns plagued residents throughout New England. National Guard troops went into action in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. A pond dam in Porter, Maine, let loose Tuesday morning, sending a torrent of water down country roads but injuring no one. Water covered roads in New Hampshire.
Stonington, Conn., a coastal town on a peninsula, was largely cut off as two of its three bridges went out. A bridge also gave out in Freetown, Mass., isolating about 1,000 residents.
Officials in Warwick, where a water and sewage treatment plant failed, asked residents not to launder clothes or flush toilets. Rhode Island officials warned that although the waters had begun to recede by Wednesday afternoon, the Pawtuxet was not expected to go below its banks before Saturday.
In Connecticut, the muddy earth beneath a Middletown apartment complex parking lot gave way, leaving two buildings teetering over the ravine of a river. Residents went to a shelter.
Heavy rains buckled a road in Fall River, Mass., near the Rhode Island border. In Peabody, north of Boston, a court closed Wednesday because flooding made it inaccessible. Some residents there evacuated. Downtown businesses piled sandbags at their front doors.
Demetri Skalkos, co-owner of McNamara’s liquor store, said about three feet of water stood in the basement. He said he was worried about losing business over the busy Easter period.
“This is the Holy Week,” he said. “… If we don’t do business now, when are we going to do business?”
Traffic snarled as motorists sought detours around I-95, the main link between New York and Boston. Amtrak suspended its Acela Express and regular Northeast Regional service in the area.
Glen Kerkian, a resident of Charlestown, R.I., and president of the University of Rhode Island Foundation, heard the announcement as he waited in New York’s Penn Station for his train to board – but was trying not to worry.
“There are people who have had serious hardship,” he said. “You’re seeing water in places you’ve never seen before – on the normal route to work, going through a half-dozen rapids.”