LEOMINSTER, MASS. (WHDH) - Cleanup efforts continued in Leominster and several other Massachusetts communities Tuesday after heavy rains on Monday triggered flash flooding that damaged roads, homes and businesses and prompted the closure of local schools.
Hours after sunrise revealed new damage and after touring impacted communities, Gov. Maura Healey on Tuesday night officially announced a state of emergency declaration.
“Today I saw firsthand the devastating impacts of severe flooding in Leominster and North Attleborough – and it was painfully clear that Massachusetts is in a state of emergency,” Healey said, in part.
“This declaration will expedite our efforts to deliver relief to impacted communities and bolster our ability to access federal resources,” Healey said.
More than 100 people were utilizing city emergency shelter space as of Tuesday morning, according to Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella. In addition to local school cancellations, several roads in Leominster were closed throughout the day.
In an update around 2 p.m. Leominster’s public schools superintendent announced school will be canceled again on Wednesday.
“Precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of all our students and staff,” said Superintendent Paula Deacon.
“Please stay safe and thank you for all your support!” Deacon said.
Residents return to homes after rescues
Floodwaters on Monday rose fast, triggering a flash flood emergency declaration from the National Weather Service encompassing Leominster, Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Princeton and Sterling.
A larger swath of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire was included under a series of flash flood warnings as storms pounded parts of southern New England.
Leominster ultimately received roughly 9.5 inches of rain in a matter of hours before showers tapered off around midnight, according to rainfall measurements. Parts of Princeton and Sterling saw more than six inches of rain.
A separate series of communities north of Providence and around the Attleboro area also experienced severe flooding with just under seven inches of rain in Attleboro.
Various emergency authorities reported water rescues and flood damage in several communities. Within Leominster itself, mutual aid from neighboring municipalities and state agencies responded to hard-hit areas and crews could be seen rescuing residents from their homes using inflatable boats and raised trucks.
At the Meadowbrook Acres mobile home community, 7NEWS cameras captured many residents either wading to dry land with their belongings or being carried to safety. At least one dog was seen being carried away from the flooded area.
“The water kept coming and coming and coming,” said Arlene Sauler after being rescued Monday night. “I’ve never seen this much water.”
Resident David Murphy described “chaos” as he was evacuated.
“The fireman knocked on the door and said ‘You got to go,’” he said. “We had no choice. So, they pontooned us out.”
“Very thankful for the first responders for getting us out of here,” said Ron Duval. “By the time we were leaving, the water was basically up to our waist and it was still coming down pretty good.”
Fire officials on the ground said many residents from the mobile home community were initially taken to the Frances Drake Elementary School, where more than 60 people were seeking shelter around 11 p.m.
Returning home on Tuesday, residents were fearing the worst but hoping for the best.
“I couldn’t wait to get back to the house and then, you know, it’s a little devastating to come back and see,” Duval said.
Resident David Murphy said the water “came just up to the floor.”
“So, no water got in the house,” he said.
“Everything else is gone,” Murphy continued. “The cars are gone. There was water up to the seats.”
Roads closed after flooding causes sinkholes, other damage
More than a dozen streets in Leominster were closed for repairs and hundreds of vehicles had been towed from impacted areas Tuesday morning, Mazzarella said.
“As it gets light, we’re still assessing, and it’s every part of the city,” Mazzarella told reporters.
Flood damage included a massive sinkhole that opened on Pleasant Street near Colburn Street, swallowing part of the roadway and exposing the foundation of a nearby home.
Neighbors said a couple had lived in the impacted home for 50 years or more before the ground around their home disappeared.
One neighbor named Zac spoke with 7NEWS on camera, saying he advised his neighbors to pack a bag. The couple was hoping to stay. As conditions deteriorated, though, and as Zac and a friend were directing traffic around the growing hole in the street, Zac said they knew their neighbors had to leave.
“I’m like ‘Get them out,’” he said.
Zac said the pair were still in the house in a room hanging over the eroded trench.
“They had no idea,” Zac said.
Zac said his friend got the couple out in the nick of time, banging on the door and helping the pair move to more stable ground just as their walkway collapsed.
More sinkholes opened on Lancaster Street, where driveways caved in and where a vehicle was left dangling from the foundation of a property’s garage.
On Route 117, the roadway was coated in mud and driveways had buckled. Some front-end loaders were seen trying to clear the road Tuesday.
“There’s a ton of damage,” said Chief Robert Sideleau of the Leominster Fire Department. “Never seen water like that.”
“We were waist high pulling people out of houses and cars and stuff like that,” Sideleau continued.
On Main Street, a section of the parking lot at Durand Buick GMC Cadillac collapsed, sending several SUVs toward the neighboring Nashua River.
“The ground got lost under a couple of cars and we’ve lost three vehicles, it looks like, but other than that, we’re very lucky,” said car dealership owner Joel Baker.
Near the dealership, part of Main Street was closed Tuesday while state Department of Transportation divers inspected a bridge over the Nashua River for signs of damage.
Officials said things had been okay but said divers could not get to a pier which supports the bridge in the middle of the river due to fast moving water. It was unclear as of Tuesday afternoon when the bridge will be declared safe.
“We don’t know if we are going to have that answer today,” said MassDOT District 3 Highway Director Barry Larion. “We’re hoping to have that answer but of course the water level is very high, so it is, to some extent, dangerous to get into the water.”
Shuttle buses replace Commuter Rail trains after flooding
Near the North Leominster MBTA station, Commuter Rail tracks were seen hanging in the air after flooding washed the ground away beneath them Monday night.
Drone video showed some of the scene on Tuesday and a car was spotted wedged under a shed — some of several items of debris below the tracks.
The T announced various Commuter Rail schedule changes and train cancellations as flooding intensified on Monday. As of Tuesday night, the T on its website said buses would continue to replace regular train service on the Fitchburg Line between Wachusett and Shirley stations “until further notice” due to flooding damage in Leominster.
The T advised passengers to expect delays of up to 30 minutes on inbound trips as trains wait for buses at Shirley station.
A spokesperson for Keolis, which operates the Commuter Rail system, on Tuesday evening said Keolis and the T will work with Leominster “to assess the damage and coordinate for necessary repairs to the drainage infrastructure before the required track repairs can begin.”
The spokesperson continued, saying crews “are actively clearing debris” and working with Leominster officials.
“Impending inclement weather over the next few days is expected to impact the timeline for these repairs,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the MBTA in a separate statement said MBTA General Manager Phil Eng was on site for most of the day Tuesday near North Leominster Station “where a culvert (drain) under the train tracks was washed out by flash flood waters.”
“GM Eng and his team are working closely with Keolis and coordinating with city and state officials on implementing plans to install a pipe to channel water under the tracks,” the spokesperson said.
“After the pipe is in place, crews will bring in material to rebuild the embankment that supports the tracks, allowing Commuter Rail personnel to get train service back up and running through the area,” the spokesperson continued.
Concern about Barrett Park Pond Dam prompts evacuation notice; Notice later lifted
Floodwaters in some spots within Leominster receded quickly Monday night. Elsewhere, the threat lingered and evolved.
On Tuesday morning, residents in low-lying areas of the Fall Brook tributary to Fall Brook along Central Street, Fall Brook, and the North Nashua River in Leominster were urged to evacuate and safely leave the area due to a potential issue at the Barrett Park Pond Dam, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) announced. The evacuation notice was later lifted shortly before 12 p.m.
Shelter for residents in the evacuated area Tuesday morning was available at Skyview Middle School.
Mazzarella said, as of Tuesday morning, he was only aware of minor injuries as a result of the flooding. He said officials were still getting a sense of how widespread the damage was.
In a statement early Tuesday afternoon, the city of Leominster said anyone needing “non-life threatening assistance” with issues such as “basement flooding, sump pumps and the like” should contact Leominster Emergency Management personnel at 978-534-7580.
Anyone with life-threatening emergencies should dial 911.
The Red Cross is also offering food, overnight shelter and health and mental health services.
Anyone in need can call 800-564-1234.
Gov. Healey speaks in Leominster, North Attleboro
Gov. Maura Healey issued a statement late Monday, noting flooding in the Leominster area and other Massachusetts communities.
“My heart goes out to the impacted communities and public safety personnel,” Healey said.
Healey said MEMA personnel were on the ground alongside state police and state Department of Fire Service personnel as of Monday night with boat rescue and emergency response teams “to ensure the safety of our residents.”
On Tuesday, Healey headed to both North Attleboro and Leominster to survey damage from flooding and speak to local authorities.
Speaking at Leominster’s Emergency Management headquarters, Healey said she and her team were “working as quickly as possible” to issue their state of emergency declaration.
Officials on Tuesday said they estimate the cost of recent flood damage to be in the millions of dollars. Facing high price tags for repairs, officials said they hope to get federal help for residents.
In the meantime, officials said the process of getting displaced residents back into their homes could continue for months.
Officials eye potential for more rain
Tuesday brought with it drier weather for many after Monday’s downpours.
Flooding concerns are set to return on Wednesday, though, with a flood watch set to be in effect for much of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Between one and two inches of rain are possible within the flood watch area, according to forecasts. More than four inches are possible in localized areas.
Rain is expected to begin moving across the region around midday. Rainfall is then expected to continue in some spots through the afternoon into the overnight hours.
Hurricane Lee is also in the process of moving through the Atlantic Ocean, with forecasts on Tuesday night showing the system moving up the East Coast and past Massachusetts over the weekend.
“We continue to be vigilant about the weather,” Healey said. “We do expect more rains. We’re going to watch, closely, hurricane activity and how that will affect things.”
This is a developing news story; stay with 7NEWS on-air and online for the latest details.
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