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RI WEATHER

As rain continues, Rhode Island surveys damage from flooding

NWS meteorologist Bill Simpson said that Monday’s heaviest rainfall was localized and will have a minor impact on the ongoing drought, which began in the middle of May

VIDEO: Rhode Island neighborhoods flooded after heavy rainfall
Video Courtesy of @TheLiberalNurse and @seanpaddyb via Twitter

PROVIDENCE – Cities and towns around Rhode Island were surveying the damage from Labor Day flooding and watching for even more of it as rain continued to fall on Tuesday.

In Cranston, where 10 inches of rain was reported, some basements flooded on Monday and some cars got swamped when drivers ignored advice not to try their luck, city officials said. The fire department also helped motorists who were stranded Monday on Route 10, bringing them to a community center and helping arrange transportation for them. City officials also had their eyes on a dam near Plainfield Pike, but did not end up having to evacuate the area they were concerned about.

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The city otherwise avoided major incidents, and would continue to monitor the situation throughout the day Tuesday, said Anthony Moretti, chief of staff to Mayor Ken Hopkins. Moretti said flooding had mostly subsided and things were now under control — “so far, so good,” Moretti said Tuesday morning.

“The city’s prepared should any more flooding occur,” Moretti said. “We’re pretty proud with the way our emergency services responded under the circumstances.”

Providence police told the Globe that they received 76 calls for service during the storm, for safety hazards, accidents and storm hazards. On Monday, some motorists were stranded for hours as I-95 shut down in both directions due to extreme flooding. At a press conference Monday evening, Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti told reporters that drainage systems had not become blocked during the flash flooding, which dumped more than 4 inches of rain on Providence and surrounding areas in a short period of time. “It was simply that the rain came down at an intensity that exceeded its capacity to accept it,” he said.

The weather system was continuing to linger over the area, with concerns about nuisance flooding persisting.

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Staff from the state Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Water Resources have been monitoring Rhode Island’s wastewater treatment facilities, said DEM spokesman Michael Healey.

The facility staff are estimating that several thousand gallons were discharged, but DEM said it will be hard to determine an exact volume due to the flooding.

The City of Cranston found evidence of a sanitary sewer overflow on Lake Street, where the area was flooded with rain water, and operators saw movement around the sanitary sewer manholes, Healey said. The area appeared to be clear by 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Sanitary sewers collect and transport domestic, commercial, and industrial wastewater, as well as limited amounts of storm water and infiltrated ground water, to treatment facilities. DEM has also gotten some reports of backups of basements in Providence.

There have been combined sewer overflow discharges at the Bucklin Point and Fields Point facilities run by the Narragansett Bay Commission, which serves metropolitan Providence and Blackstone Valley areas. Healey said that discharges from combined sewer systems during rain events are not considered violations as long as all the requirements of the facility’s permit are met.

With the heavy rainfall and several combined sewer overflow discharges, DEM announced emergency closures of shellfish areas on Tuesday.

“The emergency closures include waters of Narragansett Bay north of a line running from approximately Quonset Point in North Kingstown to the northern tip of Conanicut Island (Jamestown) to the southern tip of Prudence Island to Carr Point in Portsmouth,” the announcement said.

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The runoff can convey bacterial contaminants into Narragansett Bay, but bacteria levels usually return to normal, safe background levels within 7 to 10 days after the excessive rainfall.

In Providence, Mayor Jorge Elorza defended the city’s response to the storm after mayoral candidate Brett Smiley, on the ballot in next week’s Democratic primary, highlighted damage to Atwells Avenue.

“Today, after intense rains across the city, we saw our city infrastructure fail us,” Smiley tweeted. “Decades of underfunding, faulty repairs by the city and by vendors and years of inconsistent maintenance have resulted in deteriorating infrastructure right in our neighborhoods.”

Elorza said the patch that burst was installed by Providence Water, not a third-party city vendor. It was within a 90-day settling period and a permanent patch couldn’t have been installed, Elorza said.

“I ask all the candidates who have commented on yesterday’s road damage on Atwells Avenue to lead with facts,” Elorza said Tuesday.

“Yesterday’s burst patch and resulting road damage were plainly not a result of sloppy vendors, bad planning, or faulty execution,” Elorza said. “Given the massive amount of flash rain, it is amazing and we were quite fortunate that more similar incidents did not occur.”

About 30 students at Brown University were displaced after their dorms flooded, according to ABC6. A university spokesperson told the local TV station that the first floor of a residence hall on Keeney Quad was impacted.

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A building at 215 Peace St. collapsed during the storm Monday, though the building was not occupied and no injuries occurred, police said.

Spokeswoman Theresa Agonia said rain in Providence was expected to taper off Tuesday afternoon and evening, and periods of additional heavy rainfall could cause more street flooding.

The city reminded residents to report requests to PVD311 by using the app or calling 3-1-1.

“Mayor Elorza and Providence’s Emergency Advisory Board (EAB) continue to meet to coordinate the City’s response to the massive amount of rainfall that we saw,” Agonia said.

The Providence branch of the Division of Motor Vehicles on Melrose Street was also closed due to severe flooding, the state agency that runs it announced. That would last at least through Wednesday, the DMV said. All other offices and services remained open.

In addition to I-95, other major roads were shut down Monday in the flash flooding.

Statewide, the Department of Transportation reported Tuesday morning that there were no additional flooding incidents.

“RIDOT maintenance crews continued to monitor overnight and will do so throughout today,” department spokeswoman Lisbeth Pettengill said in an email Tuesday.

Smithfield also saw significant rain, causing two roadway closures in neighborhoods in the Greenville section of town. About a dozen residents had their basements flooded, said Todd Manni, director of emergency management and community outreach.

No injuries were reported, but at least two vehicles tried to drive through flood water, either before emergency crews got there or by driving around barricades, Manni said.

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The town on Tuesday was monitoring the Woonasquatucket River, which was in minor flood stage at just under 6 feet just before 8 a.m., Manni said. The historic high came during the March 2010 flood, when it rose to over 9 feet, Manni said. This is the 13th time the river has reached minor flood stage, Manni said, citing town records and National Weather Service records that go back to 1942.

“Our messaging today is first, never drive through flooded roadways and second, if you live or work in a flood prone area, remain vigilant and aware of dangerous conditions due to rising water since rainfall is forecast to continue throughout most of today,” Manni said Tuesday. “In the unlikely chance an evacuation order is issued, do so without delay.”

NWS meteorologist Bill Simpson said that Monday’s heaviest rainfall was localized and will have only a minor impact on the ongoing drought, which began in the middle of May.

A drought, which is a prolonged period of dry weather that persists long enough to cause crop damage and water shortages, has led to US Department of Agriculture disaster declarations in four of five Rhode Island counties, according to National Integrated Drought Information System.

This year, Rhode Island experienced the second driest July and the 35th driest year-to-date in 128 years.

Simpson said the rain will help but it will take more than one rainfall event to break the drought.”The problem when you have a big rain event is that a lot runs off,” he said. “If you have 5 inches over the course of a month, it allows it to percolate into the soil. The rainfall numbers might be misleading.”

The last NIDIS report said that 12.98 percent of the Northeast US was in severe drought and 4.45 percent were experiencing extreme drought conditions as of Aug. 23.

The World Health Organization says that droughts can have a serious impact on health, agriculture, economies, energy and the environment.

“Most of this was southern Rhode Island, southern Connecticut, and southern Massachusetts,” Simpson said. “Unfortunately, the overall impact will be minimal.”

This is developing story.

Amanda Milkovits and Carlos Munoz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from earlier Globe coverage was used in this report.


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.