Flooding on a scale rarely seen in New England forced hundreds of residents from their homes Wednesday, overwhelmed sewage systems and isolated communities as it washed out bridges and rippled across thoroughfares from Maine to Connecticut.
As three days of record-breaking rains tapered to a drizzle, forecasters warned the worst of widespread flooding was still ahead as rivers and streams had yet to crest — for the second time in a month.
In Rhode Island, which bore the brunt of the storm, residents were experiencing the worst flooding in more than 100 years. Stretches of Interstate 95, the main route linking Boston to New York, were closed and could remain so for days. Amtrak suspended trains through the area because of water on the tracks.
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. Rising waters either stranded hundreds of people or sent them to shelters. Many of those who stayed behind appeared shell-shocked, still recovering from floods two weeks ago caused by as much as 10 inches of rain.
Monica Bourgeois, 45, cried Wednesday morning as she stood outside her home in Cranston, where a sewer pump station gave out and hundreds of residents had evacuated by early Wednesday. The Pawtuxet River had turned her lawn into a lake and flooded her basement with six feet of still-rising water.
"It's over the furnace. We're afraid it's going to hit the electrical panel. It's so awful. The whole basement is destroyed. The whole basement is under water," she said.
"I have absolutely no idea how we're going to pay for this. I'm extremely, extremely worried. Do you know how much a new furnace costs? We're just praying to God for some help."
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.
"None of us alive have seen the flooding that we are experiencing now or going to experience," Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri said. "This is unprecedented in our state's history."
President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration late Tuesday for Rhode Island, ordering federal aid for disaster relief and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts.
But the havoc was spread throughout the region, as National Guard troops went into action in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. A pond dam in Porter, Maine, let loose Tuesday morning, sending a torrent of water down country roads but injuring no one. Water covered roads in New Hampshire.
Stonington, Conn., a coastal town on a peninsula, was largely cut off as two of its three bridges went out. A bridge also gave out in Freetown, Mass., isolating about 1,000 residents.
Non-essential state workers in Rhode Island were given the day off, and state officials asked schools and private businesses to consider closing, as well. Officials in Warwick, where a water and sewage treatment plant failed, asked residents not to launder clothes or flush toilets. The state also asked people to stay off highways and local roads.
Heavy rains in Connecticut 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 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.
In Massachusetts, the biggest concerns were in the southeastern part of the state, where a highway was closed. Heavy rains buckled a road in Fall River, 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 and nearby streets were closed.
Demetri Skalkos, co-owner of McNamara's liquor store, said about three feet of water stood in the basement. He said he was worried about losing business over the traditionally busy Easter period.
"This is the Holy Week," he said. "... If we don't do business now, when are we going to do business?"
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Bob Salsberg in Wayland, Mass., Stephen Singer and Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Conn., Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, and Samantha Henry in Newark, N.J.
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