Storms batter New England

Prolonged heavy rain causes widespread flooding, could break records


BOSTON -- Rain fell steadily yesterday, and the forecast facing waterlogged New Englanders was for still more precipitation.

A prolonged rainstorm clobbered the region all weekend, dumping up to 17 inches along the coast north of Boston. With more rain and possible thunderstorms expected at least through today, weather records are likely to fall, forecasters said.

"This is a serious, dangerous weather event that probably in more than 100 years of recorded weather will enter into the top five of serious, dangerous events in terms of precipitation," said meteorologist Charlie Foley of the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass. "What we have here is too much water in too short a time."

Governors in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire declared states of emergency to activate National Guard troops as the heaviest downpour in a decade sent hundreds of rivers and streams overflowing. The Merrimack River, which flows from New Hampshire to Massachusetts, was more than 8 feet above flood stage.

Flooding caused sewage to back up into sinks, basements and, in at least one case, into the halls of an apartment building.

Hundreds were evacuated in New Hampshire and the hardest-hit towns north of Boston. Hugh Drummond of the American Red Cross in Boston said his agency had set up more than 30 shelters in schools throughout the region.

More than a dozen elderly people spent Sunday night at a shelter hastily set up at Fuller School in Gloucester, Mass., said Red Cross spokeswoman Elizabeth Macomber.

With bridges washed out and hundreds of roads and highways underwater, many people who had gone out for Mother's Day meals were unable to return to their homes, Macomber said. As floodwaters rose yesterday and as the storm gained strength, additional areas were being evacuated, she said.

Yesterday, Macomber said, "a whole section of Ipswich, about 80 families," was being evacuated. Ipswich is on the coast about a half-hour north of Boston.

In Peabody, also north of Boston, about 300 residents of a high-rise apartment complex were evacuated when their building's sewage system backed up.

Schools in Peabody and elsewhere were closed yesterday because school buses could not get through. Some people used canoes to traverse the city's downtown.

Kayaks were a popular form of transportation yesterday in York County, Maine, south of Portland.

"It seems to be the best way to get around, but it's not the safest," said Ginnie A. Ricker, assistant to the director of Maine's Emergency Management Agency. "We are recommending that people stay away from the water, especially if they are near a dam. Those dams are holding back a lot of water right now."

Jim Van Dongen, spokesman for the New Hampshire Bureau of Emergency Management, said yesterday that no dams had failed in his state but that at least a dozen were under observation. The storm has put more than 600 New Hampshire roads, bridges and culverts out of commission, he said, and prompted about 3,000 people to leave their homes.

Around the region, playgrounds and parking lots became lakes. Little Leaguers and the Boston Red Sox postponed games. Home supply stores reported record sales Sunday of sump pumps.

The heavy rain followed a prolonged and dangerous dry spell, said Foley of the National Weather Service.

"Just last month there was a high potential for brushfires," Foley said. "So much for that. We certainly have seen a wide swing of the weather pendulum."

Elizabeth Mehren writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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