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‘You do what you got to do’: In Leominster, retired teacher fought to save neighbors’ homes from flooding

Sand blocked the front entrance of a home in Leominster.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

LEOMINSTER — John DeCicco remembers the Blizzard of ‘78, when the region was shellacked by nearly 30 inches of snow, shutting down businesses and stranding thousands in their homes.

But after Leominster was inundated by about 10 inches of rain that turned scenic brooks into raging rivers, sent floodwater surging into homes and businesses, and forced people into emergency shelters, DeCicco thinks the historic snowstorm was a little bit easier to handle.

“You can’t shovel water,” DeCicco quipped.

During Monday’s storm. DeCicco, 64, found himself on the front lines of the response, as he worked for hours trying to save the homes of two of his North Main Street neighbors from flooding. He was lucky — the home he shares with his wife wasn’t seriously damaged.


Shortly after the skies opened up around 5 p.m., the retired teacher jumped into action.

Within minutes, one neighbor already had about two inches of water in his basement, DeCicco recalled Tuesday. He grabbed a water pump, brought it across the street, and put it to work trying to slow the rising water.

Around 6 p.m., he heard explosions, and power in the neighborhood went out, DeCicco said. Without power, there was no pump, so he went home to load a generator on his truck.

Outside, the rainstorm was blinding.

“It was a deluge,” he said. “You couldn’t see your hand in front of you.”

By the time he returned — about 20 minutes later — there was more than a foot and a half of water in his neighbor’s basement. He then learned that a second neighbor, who had been pumping out their own basement, also needed a hand.

As a longtime technical education instructor at Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham, DeCicco is used to helping neighbors fix a problem around the house. He has the skills and the tools after all.


But this was unlike any challenge he had faced before.

Over the next few hours, DeCicco scrambled to try to save both homes. He hooked up both water pumps to his generator, which drained it quickly. So he ran back and forth from his house to keep it fueled until the power was restored around 1 a.m.

He finally went to bed around 2 a.m., got up around 8, put on some clothes and went back to work setting up fans and dehumidifiers in his neighbors’ homes.

“You do what you got to do when people are in need,” DeCicco said.

DeCicco, who grew up in Leominster, said his family has long owned properties along North Main Street, and Monday night’s flooding caused damage unlike anything he had ever seen.

“You couldn’t engineer or design anything that could withstand what we experienced,” DeCicco said. “There was no stopping this. The damage was astounding.”

DeCicco said residents have come together to support each another. People are reaching out by phone and text or over social media to see how they can help in the city’s recovery.

“If ever there was a time for all hands on deck, it’s now,” he said.

The community response has been heartwarming, he said.

“A silver lining to this rainstorm,” he said. “It gives you a lot of faith in mankind.”

John Hilliard can be reached at