FALL RIVER — Flash flooding from heavy rains pummeled this city on Wednesday, submerging dozens of cars, rendering streets impassable, and forcing the rescue of a number of residents, officials said.
“For that two-hour period it was crisis mode within the city,” said Mayor William A. Flanagan, of the period between about 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. “In about a 45-minute period, we received hundreds of calls at Government Center. As you would clear one line it would light back up again. [The] 911 emergency phone number was also inundated.”
At its height, the storm dropped 2 inches of rain in less than an hour in the city, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton. The city had more than 3 inches of rain by 12:30 p.m, and a day-care center was evacuated at about 12:45 p.m. as flood waters entered the building, according to the weather service.
Flanagan said that he saw the storm wreak havoc in several areas.
“What I witnessed was flood water going over the roofs of motor vehicles, passengers and drivers escaping out of their windows, going on top of the roofs of their cars to seek shelter,” Flanagan said.
One motorist, Durval Rebelo, 76, said he had a brush with death shortly before noon on Lindsey Street, one of the hardest hit areas, when a firefighter had to pull him out of his submerged vehicle.
“I almost died,” said Rebelo, who returned to the scene later in the day to inspect his waterlogged Oldsmobile. “I can’t open the door.
“The fireman, he saved my life. Son of a gun.”
Flanagan said he witnessed many similar rescues.
“I observed emergency personnel going neck deep in the flood waters to rescue people who were trapped,” he said.
The weather service also reported that 40 to 60 cars were trapped in high water on Eastern Avenue near a rotary at about 12:25 p.m.
“Cars just couldn’t move,” said Ken Pacheco, the city’s director of community maintenance.
“Unfortunately they were already into the area when the water started to rise, and they just couldn’t get out of there. It was high enough that they kept stalling out,” Pacheco added.
In an evening report, the weather service estimated that Fall River had received more than 5 inches of rain on Wednesday. Other hard-hit areas included Acushnet, which had more than 4 inches, Taunton at 3.45 inches, and New Bedford at 2.81 inches, the weather service reported.
Parts of Plymouth, Hampshire, Barnstable, and Franklin counties also had more than 2 inches on the day, according to the weather service.
But Thursday should be drier, according to Matthew Belk, a weather service meteorologist.
Lightning on Wednesday caused power outages to about 4,000 customers in Fall River, according to Deborah Drew, a spokeswoman for National Grid. Only two addresses remained without power as of late Wednesday, Drew said.
Amanda Furtado, 18, said she witnessed the rescue of Rebelo on Lindsey Street. “It was, oh my God,” she said.
She said her car was damaged and a neighbor’s car “was literally floating” at one point.
Her father, Mark Furtado, 42, was taking stock in the afternoon of the family garage, which he said had about 2 feet of water at the height of the flooding.
He said the flooding left about 6 inches of water inside a 1970s-era Camaro that he had spent years refurbishing.
“Five years to rebuild it, two hours to destroy it, I guess,” he said. “Got to love Mother Nature.”
He said the street has seen frequent flooding of late.
Flanagan said all of the public schools in the city are scheduled to open for the first day of classes on Thursday as planned.
The John J. Doran Elementary School sustained water damage on Wednesday, but it will open wit h the other schools on schedule, he said.