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New England Struggles After Record Flooding

Parts of New England are still underwater after heavy rains. March was one for the record books in much of the region.

Stranded residents stand on the far side of Narrows Road March 31, 2010 as construction crews work to divert flood water in Freetown, Massachusetts.
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Above: Stranded residents stand on the far side of Narrows Road March 31, 2010 as construction crews work to divert flood water in Freetown, Massachusetts.

Three days of steady rain in Rhode Island caused the Blackstone River to swell dramatically — sending waves of water crashing down Valley Falls in the town of Cumberland, just north of Providence.

"Wet, scary, rushing beyond my imagination of what a river can do," said Laurie Levebvre of Cumberland, who was stunned by the sight.

"This might impress some of these young guys out here that don't underestimate Mother Nature," Levebre added. "Mother of all mothers."

The Blackstone had crested at 15 feet by Wednesday 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 water also shut down parts of Interstate 95, which links Boston and New York.

Schools and government offices have been closed for business, and some neighborhood roads remain submerged.

"We're setting new records as we speak," said Don Carcieri, Rhode Island's governor. "We have set a record for rainfall in the month of March — over 16 inches of rain. This is historic in our state."

The flooding ends a month of unprecedented rainfall across the Northeast. Boston, New Jersey, New York City and Portland, Maine, recorded record rainfalls in March.

In Cranston, R.I., David Alviano used a wet-vac to suck up water in his basement, which has leather furniture, children's toys and a new tile floor.

"Just remodeled it about a month ago," he said. "All new furniture, all the kids toys are soaking wet, all the new rugs — they're all trash."

Alviano has been fighting a losing battle against the water since Tuesday.

"It doesn't stop — it just keeps coming," Alviano said. "It's still coming through the floor. The ground's saturated and it's got nowhere to go, and it's just pushing through every little crack it can get through."

Those without wet-vacs or sump pumps have as much as 6 feet of water in their basements. Outside Alviano's house, the rain-swollen Pawtuxet River turned many lawns into lakes.

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

"They've been sandbagging, making sure the residents have access to sandbags," the mayor said. "My fire department is 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 all the services that we provide."

Then, 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 floodwaters are overwhelming sewage treatment plants in several cities and towns.

Mayor Fung asked Cranston residents to cooperate. "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 with conservation of water."

Elsewhere in Rhode Island, 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 need to inspect. They'll be able to do that when the waters recede after some of the worst flooding the state has seen in more than a century.

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