This story was reported by Jack Lyons, Alexandra Chaidez, Camille Caldera, Gal Tziperman Lotan, and Andrew Brinker. It was written by Andy Rosen and John Hilliard.
Tropical Storm Henri crashed onto New England’s southern shores Sunday, making landfall in Rhode Island with a potent combination of damaging winds and torrential rains that could continue to threaten the region as remnants of the storm head inland, then creep back toward the sea.
The storm was downgraded from a hurricane shortly before it reached land in Westerly, R.I., around 12:15 p.m — sparing the region its first direct hit from a hurricane in three decades. But Henri remained a powerful weather system with winds that toppled trees and had knocked out power to 100,000 customers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island at one point Sunday afternoon.
More than 54,000 customers in Rhode Island remained without power around 10:30 p.m Sunday, with restoration expected to take several days. Around 1,559 were in the dark in Massachusetts.
The storm’s maximum sustained winds measured 60 miles per hour when it made landfall, but those watching Henri emphasized that its greatest danger could be from floods fed by heavy rainfalls predicted for areas including central and western parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Henri could linger through Monday even as it weakens.
“While New Englanders are used to dealing with some tough weather, this storm has the potential for widespread consequences across the region, with significant flooding and power outages that could affect hundreds of thousands of people,” President Biden said in an address to the nation Sunday afternoon.
Biden said he had approved emergency declarations for Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.
Henri was expected to slow down Sunday night and possibly stall near the border of Connecticut and New York, then move east-northeastward across northern Connecticut and southern Massachusetts on Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The largest rain totals were expected in an area stretching from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, across a swath of New York, and into Western Massachusetts and Connecticut. The hurricane center said people in those areas should prepare for the possibility of flash floods, as well as overflowing streams and rivers.
The storm, which was downgraded again Sunday evening to a tropical depression, was expected to produce 3 to 6 inches of rain in hard-hit areas, but the hurricane center said the total in some spots could approach 12 inches. The National Weather Service said there is a possibility of isolated, but brief, tornadoes Monday.
And as people were bracing for wild weather, some looked for any advantage over the storm they could find.
“Are you ready for the hurricane?” the Rev. Steven Montesanti asked his congregation at the 8:30 a.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pittsfield.
A rumble of voices from the pews signaled a mixed response as outside a cool breeze began to pick up under a sheet of gray clouds.
“You’re ready for anything!” Montesanti said. “We walk with the Lord, right?”
While the rain remained a wild card Sunday evening, it appeared that Boston and Eastern Massachusetts had dodged Henri’s initial onslaught. And though many coastal communities reported some flooding and dangerous surf, the National Weather Service said the threat to the shoreline was subsiding by Sunday evening.
The storm approached as the region was expecting astronomical high tides around midnight, but the National Weather Service said the threat of surges had receded as the storm moved away from the coast with maximum sustained wind speeds that had declined below 40 miles per hour.
People who came out to Fort Phoenix State Reservation in Fairhaven at high tide Sunday morning were buffeted by wind and rain. The stormy weather was strong enough to topple lifeguard towers along the beach.
Officials warned that ocean swells from Henri could continue to affect much of the East Coast for another day or so, and those conditions could cause life-threatening surf and rip currents.
In New Bedford, the Army Corps of Engineers made the decision in the early morning as the storm bore down to close the harbor’s hurricane barrier, a 140-foot wide, 50-foot high gate that protects boats from high tides.
Staff at the Buttonwood Park Zoo moved some animals in preparation for the storm, director Keith Lovett said. Some larger animals — bears, cougars, bison — were brought into indoor enclosures of their own, so that staff would not have to worry about any surprise escapes.
By 3 p.m., the storm passed over the city without any major damage, and the animals were back outside.
“We actually did really well,” Lovett said. “The impact here in New Bedford was not as bad as predicted.”
Forecasts leading up to the storm’s impact had shown it turning away from the Boston area, though Acting Mayor Kim Janey urged people not to take any chances. During a morning news conference, Janey said residents should remain home or seek shelter, and avoid traveling during the storm.
By late afternoon, the wind and the choppy sea were among the few hints of Henri in Boston.
Tim Kast, 29, had expected to shutter inside on Sunday. Instead, at 5 p.m., he was reading a book on a bench by Boston Harbor.
“It’s actually kind of nice out,” he said.
Still, preparations for the storm remained in place ahead of the overnight high tide.
In the Seaport, the buildings at Pier 4 were surrounded on all sides by blue-and-black flood walls connected by watertight webbing and bolted to the pavement.
And despite the downscaling of Henri, there were many storm-related disruptions around the region.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority suspended its ferry service to its Charlestown and Hingham/Hull stops for the day. The Steamship Authority, which transports passengers to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, also halted service Sunday.
At Logan International Airport, officials Saturday issued a weather advisory through Monday and asked passengers to check with airlines regarding the status of flights. And in Boston, a scheduled Red Sox-game at Fenway Park against the Texas Rangers was postponed until Monday.
Most flights in and out of Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport in Warwick were canceled, though the airport remained open.
In Rhode Island, Governor Dan McKee implemented a travel ban starting at 11 a.m. Sunday on the state’s roadways for all tractor trailers and motorcycles, except for vehicles carrying emergency supplies.
But some people couldn’t resist venturing outside.
In Narragansett, R.I., Matt Marsocci braced himself against strong wind gusts as he walked along the top of the sea wall, while his girlfriend, Morgan Demonti, looked on. Waves churned violently.
Meanwhile, officials throughout the region were turning their attention to the threat of inland flooding, along with the cleanup effort that will follow.
Governor Charlie Baker, who spoke with Biden on a call Saturday with fellow northeastern governors, has said up to 1,000 members of the National Guard would be available to help with water rescues and removing debris.
Biden said thousands of utility workers are staged at the edge of the storm’s area of impact, having traveled from around the US and Canada to help repair power lines and clear vegetation.
Worcester was bracing for the possibility of flash flooding after parts of the city were inundated just days ago by the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred.
Rain pooled in the roadways of neighborhoods surrounding Green Hill Park as the storm moved in, and city employees worked to put up flood barriers and lay sandbags in low-lying areas. Sandbags were stacked outside the city’s baseball stadium, Polar Park.
“The ground here is still saturated from the rain we took on, and that raises our risk of flooding pretty significantly,” said Martin Dyer, the deputy chief of the Worcester Fire Department.
Brian Amaral, Alexa Gagosz, Matt Lee, John Tlumacki, Pat Greenhouse, and Carlos Munoz of the Globe staff and correspondent Breanne Kovatch contributed to this report.