- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2010

CRANSTON, R.I. | 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 inundation 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.

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 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.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is planning to travel to Rhode Island on Friday to assess the damage. A DHS official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Miss Napolitano’s trip had not been announced, said the secretary will be touring the areas hard hit by several days of record-setting rain.

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, the IRS extended the tax filing deadline in the state to May 11.

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 rain 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.

In Rhode Island, 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, it is likely a death knell, Mr. Padula said.

“Now I know how the people in New Orleans felt,” he said.

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