New England cleans up amid severe flooding from Irene

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 30, 2011 1:38 PM
New England cleans up amid severe flooding from Irene

By Zach Howard and Lauren Keiper

SHELBURNE FALLS, MA (Reuters) - New England residents struggled on Monday with power outages and widespread flooding as they tried to clean up the mess left by Tropical Storm Irene.

Vermont and western Massachusetts were especially hard hit by the heavy rains during Irene's barrage, and more than 500,000 customers in Massachusetts remained without power.

A town employee from Southbridge, Massachusetts was electrocuted by a downed power line, authorities said.

"It's a tragic reminder that folks beginning the clean-up process need to do so safely," said Scott MacLeod, spokesman for the state emergency management agency.

The roaring Deerfield River in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, deluged streets and forced several hundred people to evacuate. The river picked up one building and pushed it about 100 feet across a street, said Will Mackie, local firefighter.

"It's on the right side of the road normally, but water moved it across to the left side," he said.

National Guard troops and emergency officials spread out across the state to assess conditions, and early reports showed no major structural or coastal infrastructure damage, said MacLeod. Once the beaches are safe to be inspected, MacLeod said erosion was likely to be found.

Shelburne's two-lane bridge over the Deerfield River and an adjacent pedestrian footbridge "took some heavy hits" from debris and need to be inspected before they reopen, Mackie said.

Governor Deval Patrick was checking the damage and meeting with residents and local authorities.

WATER HEADS SOUTH

Water was pouring south into Massachusetts and Connecticut from Vermont and New Hampshire after some Connecticut River Basin areas got as much as 14 inches of rain, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"We've had major flooding in the Merrimack, Connecticut, and Hudson rivers, and some points in Vermont that feed into Lake Champlain," said Steve Nogueira, hydro-meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Northeast River Forecast Center in Taunton, Massachusetts.

In New Hampshire towns West Lebanon and North Walpole, flooding from the Connecticut River was possibly the worst since the 1938 hurricane, said Nicole Belk, a hydrologist from the Northeast River Forecast Center.

President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency for Vermont, experiencing its worst flooding in recent memory.

At least one person was killed after being swept into a swollen river in the mountainous, land-locked New England state, which rarely sees tropical storms.

Many highways and roads remained closed, including a stretch of Interstate 91 southbound in Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Despite the damage from the drenching rains and wind, business returned largely to normal for commuters. Boston's boat, commuter rail and subway ran on normal schedules, and ferry service between Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard resumed.

However, Amtrak service between Boston and Philadelphia was canceled on Monday.

Some of the nearly 700,000 Connecticut residents without power could remain in the dark for a week or more, Governor Dannel Malloy said.

"Clearly this could have been worse," Malloy said of the storm impact, "but it was pretty bad out there."

Metro-North Railroad was to resume limited service Monday afternoon, he said at an afternoon press briefing.

There has been one storm-related fatality in Connecticut, an emergency management spokesman said, but did not elaborate on details of the death.

Rhode Island residents too were dealing with widespread power outages and some flooding. State beaches remained closed because of high surf and rip currents, a spokeswoman for the governor said.

In New Hampshire, more than 100,000 customers remained without power, according to Department of Safety spokesman Jim Van Dongen. Hundreds of roads were closed or affected by flooding, mostly in the northern part of the state, he said.

More than 190,000 Maine residents were without power, and Governor Paul LePage planned a helicopter tour to assess the storm damage.

(Reporting by Zach Howard in Shelburne Falls and Lauren Keiper in Boston; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)