Bill Greene/Globe Staff
Hundreds of residents were evacuated from their homes today in Fall River and Cranston, R.I., as record rainfall in southern New England pushed swollen streams past their limits, causing potentially dangerous flooding.
"We've had two 50-year storms in the course of two to three weeks,'' Governor Deval Patrick told reporters today at the state highway barn in Lexington, where Massachusetts National Guard members were filling sandbags to be used to ward off the water. "This is unheard-of. This is a little different, a little bit more dangerous due to the saturation from the previous storm. This could cause floodwaters to rise very, very fast.''
Guardsmen were deployed to Fall River where they assisted in the evacuation of about 100 people and to Clinton where they were standing by in case the town needed to build sandbag walls near the Wachusett Reservoir. Guardsmen overnight also delivered thousands of sandbags to other locations around eastern Massachusetts.
State officials said they were closely watching river levels, especially those in the Merrimack Valley, and water levels behind 39 dams across the state. The top priority for dam watchers was the troubled Forge Pond Dam in Freetown, which was weakened in another mammoth rainstorm earlier this month, said Rick Sullivan, head of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
"We are obviously being very vigilant,'' said Sullivan, who added that 30 inspectors are keeping an eye on 39 dams.
Cranston Police said this morning that about 135 homes were being evacuated. That number was expected to increase as the rain continued and the Pawtuxet River surged above record levels.
Antonio Barone was one of the residents evacuated from a Fordson Avenue condominium complex by raft.
He said he and his girlfriend had to leave their cat behind. "The poor thing's probably freaking out right now," he said.
In Fall River, Mayor William A. Flanagan declared a state of emergency, and members of the Massachusetts National Guard and deputies from the Bristol County sheriff's department used Humvees and prisoner transport vans to evacuate about 100 people.
"Mother Nature has not been kind to the city of Fall River this morning,'' Flanagan said in a telephone interview. "There is massive flooding of our major roads and residents are being evacuated.''
Flanagan said the areas most affected this morning were along the shores of both North and South Watuppa Ponds. He also said that rain has scoured out Mount Hope Avenue, one of the city's main arteries.
Major General Joseph Carter, commander of the Massachusetts National Guard, said he was sending a second group of guardsmen to Fall River to strengthen evacuation efforts. He said he had assigned more than 30 soldiers to the city and was also sending trucks built to deal with high water levels to better reach those stranded by the rising waters. He said upwards of 200 people need to be evacuated.
"I've never seen it this bad," said Sarah Robinson, 23, a Judge Street resident. "We have about 5 feet of water under the house, and it's getting deeper."
Fall River is the only place currently using guardsmen, but Carter said more than 750 are deployed in strategic spots around the state, ready to jump into action. He also said that since Patrick activated the Guard Monday, they have pepared 8,500 sandbags and delivered some of those to Bridgewater, Tewksbury, Millbury, and Clinton.
"Our Guardsmen have dropped what they were doing, whether they were in a college classroom, or running a business, or working for a business, and they've come into duty to assist,'' Carter said.
In Clinton, residents nervously watched a swollen river that stems from the Wachusett Reservoir and runs alongside Green Street. Two weeks ago, the river spilled into the neighborhood, prompting the evacuation of as many as 100 residents.
Fire Chief Richard Hart said as many as 250 residents could be evacuated if the flooding worsens this time. "Many of these people were evacuated the last time, and I anticipate the same thing will happen again, where we just can't keep up with the pumping. There's no place to put the water, but we will try to manage the best we can for these people," he said.
A number of other communities around eastern Massachusetts reported various flooding problems, including Wayland near the Sudbury River and Heards Pond, and Lakeville near the Assawompsett and Long ponds. Middleborough officials also reported flooding and Selectmen Chairman Pat Rogers said the town's wastewater treatment plant had flooded and raw sewage was being discharged into the river.
Officials said there were no reports of fatalities. But in a close call, a state trooper driving on Interstate 95 spotted a woman trapped in a car filling with water in a flooding area at the Danvers/Peabody line and brought her to safety, State Police said. The trooper and the woman sustained minor injuries.
The rain was expected to gradually taper off this evening as the coastal storm that generated it weakens near Long Island and then moves east.
By the time the storm ends Wednesday morning, 3 to 6 inches of rain will have fallen in the greater Boston area, with 6 to 8 inches in portions of southeastern Massachusetts, Kim Buttrick, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said.
Boston received 1.96 inches of rain Monday and could receive 2 to 4 inches more today, she said.
Flooding is expected to be worse and more dangerous than it was earlier this month.
What makes this [storm] have a greater impact is because its coming on the heels of a significant event, Buttrick said. The water table is high, and in many communities, the water has no place to go. The communities of Massachusetts are waterlogged.
Flood warnings were extended for the Merrimack River at Lowell, Nashua River at East Pepperell, North Nashua River at Fitchburg, Spicket River near Methuen, Squannacook River at West Groton, Shawsheen River near Wilmington, and Blackstone River at Northbridge. The warning continues for the Assabet River at Maynard, Sudbury River at Framingham, Concord River at Lowell, Charles River at Dover, and Neponset River at Norwood. Pumps are now operating in Littleton where a culvert collapsed on Monday, causing concerns about water levels in Spectacle Pond.
Colin Durrant, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said that residents were likely to see a frustrating evening commute, especially in southeastern Massachusetts, with the rain affecting both the highway and commuter rail systems.
At the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the agency has a twofold strategy for this week's storm help its member communities drain away the water from the flood and protect its equipment to be ready for the next storm.
"We've got our hands full so far,'' said Fred Laskey, executive director of the MWRA. "But we are holding.''
Laskey said the MWRA is joining with Clinton officials and keeping a wary eye on the Wachusett Reservoir, which is part of the MWRA system.
He also said that this month's heavy rainfall does have an upside there will be plenty of green lawns this summer.
"There will be plenty of water to water your lawns.We are filled beyond capacity. There is plenty of water. In fact, there is too much water,'' he said. "Even the water guys are saying, 'No mas.' ''
Patrick on Monday declared a state of emergency as Boston faced the third large rainstorm of the month.
With 12.84 inches of rainfall recorded so far this month, Boston has already broken its record for the wettest March 11 inches of rainfall in March 1953, according to the National Weather Service, where archives go back to 1872.
This March has also become the fourth wettest month overall in the history of Boston, and is creeping toward the record-setting 17.09 inches of rainfall in August 1955. With an additional 1.5 to 2.5 inches of rainfall expected between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. today, this March could become the second wettest month ever recorded, the weather service said.
David Abel, Brian Ballou, and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondent Christine Legere contributed to this report.
On the beat
Columnist Adrian Walker says UMass Dartmouth is shaken after revelations that one of the Marathon bomb suspects was a student there. Read more