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New England Struggles After Record Flooding

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New England Struggles After Record Flooding

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New England Struggles After Record Flooding

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

People in the Northeast are recovering from a deluge of misery. The rainfall broke records yesterday, flooding roads and basements from Maine to Connecticut and compounding damage from a storm two weeks ago. The rain has since relented, but officials say the water itself could linger for days.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Hundreds of people have been forced from there homes. Businesses are shut down. Even sewage systems are overloaded. The heaviest rains hit Rhode Island, where the flooding is being called the worst in a century.

Anthony Brooks reports from member station WRNI in Providence, where public officials and residents are assessing the damage.

(Soundbite of rainfall)

ANTHONY BROOKS: Three days of steady rain caused the Blackstone River to swell dramatically, sending waves of water crashing down Valley Falls in the town of Cumberland, just north of Providence. About a dozen people watched in awe.

Ms. LAURIE LAFAB(ph): Wet, scary, rushing beyond my imagination of what a river can do.

Among them, Laurie LaFab of Cumberland, who was stunned by the sight.

Ms. LAFAB: This might impress some of these young guys out here that don't underestimate Mother Nature - mother of all mothers.

BROOKS: By yesterday, the Blackstone had crested at 15 feet and caused only minor flooding. But the situation was much more serious to the south, where the Pawtuxet River crested at a record of more than 20 feet. The high waters shut down parts of Interstate 95, which links Boston and New York, and it will likely remain closed for days to come.

Yesterday, schools and government offices were closed for business, and this morning, roads and some neighborhoods remain submerged.

Here's Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri.

Governor DON CARCIERI (Rhode Island, New York): We're setting new records as we speak. We've set now an all-time record for rainfall in the month of March: over 16 inches of rain. This is historic in our state.

BROOKS: Indeed, the flooding ends a month of unprecedented rainfall across the Northeast: Boston, New Jersey, New York City and Portland, Maine all recorded record rainfalls for the month of March. And here in Rhode Island, residents will need at least a few days to dry out.

(Soundbite of vacuum engine)

BROOKS: In the city of Cranston, David Alviano(ph) is using a wet vac to suck up the water in his basement, which has leather furniture, children's toys and a new tile floor.

Mr. DAVID ALVIANO: Just remodeled it - what? About a month ago. All new furniture, all the kid's toys, everything's soak and wet. All the new rugs, they're all trash.

BROOKS: Alviano says he's been fighting a losing battle against the water since Tuesday morning.

Mr. ALVIANO: But it just keeps coming. It doesn't stop. It just keeps coming. Even now, it's still coming through the floor. The ground saturated, and the water's coming up. It's got nowhere to go, and it's just pushing through every little crack it can get through.

BROOKS: Those without wet vacs or sump pumps have as much as six feet of water in their basements. And outside Alviano's house, the rain-swollen Pawtuxet River turned many lawns into lakes.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung says 140 homes have been evacuated, and that city workers have been working without a break since Monday.

Mayor ALLAN FUNG (Cranston, Rhode Island): ...sandbagging, making sure the residents have access to sandbags. My fire department's exhausted. They've been on the go with a lot of rescues, moving people out of their homes. My police are exhausted, too. So it has a big impact on, you know, all the services that we provide.

BROOKS: And in a cruel irony, a state that has seen nothing but rain and water for days is being asked to conserve water. That's because the flood waters are overwhelming sewage treatment plants in several cities in towns, including Cranston, where Mayor Fung is asking his residents to cooperate.

Mayor FUNG: We're asking them to try not to do their laundry, no dishwasher, try to limit toilet flow as much as possible. That can help out through conservation of water.

BROOKS: Elsewhere in the state, hundreds of people were evacuated from a neighborhood in Coventry because of fears that a bridge upstream would collapse. That's just one of 185 bridges that civil engineers say they need to inspect. They'll be able to do that when the waters finally recede after some of the worst flooding that this state has seen in more than a century.

For NPR News, I'm Anthony Brooks, in Providence.

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