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Record flooding forces evacuations in New England
W Severe Weather Heal
A car sits submerged in the parking lot of the Warwick Mall on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 in Warwick, R.I. The mall is adjacent to the Pawtuxet River which crested earlier in the day after heavy rainfall. - photo by Associated Press

CRANSTON, R.I. - The second record storm that socked the Northeast this month was reduced to drizzle as it was winding down Wednesday, but the worst of widespread flooding was yet to come, forecasters said.

Rivers from Maine to New York were expected to crest later Wednesday or Thursday. And in Rhode Island, officials were bracing for what was expected to be the most severe flooding to hit the state in more than 100 years.

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

Interstate 95, a major East Coast thoroughfare, was closed for about a quarter-mile in Warwick, R.I., because of flooding and down to one lane in other areas of Rhode Island. Officials on Wednesday warned that stretches of the highway could remain closed for several days as the water recedes and to allow time for safety inspections.

Nonessential state employees were given the day off in Rhode Island and state offices were closed. Schools and private businesses were urged to follow the same policy. State officials asked drivers to stay off the road.

"If we end up with a gridlock, it's going to impact the entire state," said Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the governor.

President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration late Tuesday for the state, ordering federal aid for disaster relief and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts.

The rain came as residents were still recovering from a storm two weeks ago that dumped as much as 10 inches on the region. Business owners in the flood zone are still grappling with the impact of lost income.

"It's definitely devastating," said liquor store owner Maria Medeiros, whose family-owned business in Providence now abuts raging rapids of water and streets barricaded by the police. "Situations like this, what can you do?"

Even fishermen were hit: Shellfish beds in Rhode Island and Massachusetts were closed because of sewage overflows and failures at wastewater treatment facilities caused by flooding.

National Guard troops were activated in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Pockets of home evacuations were reported in those states, as well, and more than 100 people were ordered to leave an apartment complex in Milford, N.H. No deaths were reported in those states as of Wednesday.

In Connecticut, heavy rains 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 local 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. Crews were rushing to put sand bags down to try to save the $16 million facility.

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.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday that the city was facing "dire circumstances." A sewer pump station gave out early Wednesday, and about 130 homes had been evacuated. Warwick also was urging residents to conserve water because of a failed sewer treatment facility.

In one water-weary neighborhood along the Pawtuxet River in Cranston, basements were flooded by early Tuesday morning as water levels approached waist-deep levels toward the end of the street. 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.

North of New York City, a man in his 70s drove past a barricade onto a flooded section of the Bronx River Parkway and had to be rescued from the roof of his truck, Westchester County police said. On Long Island, rain coupled with tides inundated a 20-mile stretch of oceanfront road in Southampton.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, colder temperatures turned the storm into a surprise spring snowfall. Snowfall, which totaled more than 4 inches in some areas, caused dozens of car accidents, including a fatal crash in which a woman in her 20s lost control of her car on a snow-covered road in Dorrance Township.


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