Vehicles make their way through a flooded Lancaster Street during heavy rain in Leominster, Mass., Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. RICK CINCLAIR—WORCESTER TELEGRAM & GAZETTE/AP

MA - Hurricane Lee is pounding New England so hard that hundreds are being evacuated and a 15-foot dam is in danger of collapse

Heavy rainfall has flooded parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with one city declaring a state of emergency as water poured into homes, creating moats around their foundations and leading to boat rescues of residents. Concern about a dam listed in poor condition led to more evacuations.

More storms were in the forecast for Wednesday, and although it was still early, winds and flooding from Hurricane Lee were expected to affect Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts, southeastern New Hampshire and central and coastal Maine during the weekend, forecasters said.

Up to 300 people were evacuated by Tuesday morning in Leominster, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Boston, Mayor Dean Mazzarella said. That included residents of a high-rise apartment building and a nursing home. All schools were closed and two shelters were opened.

Mazzarella said the city has not seen such widespread damage since a hurricane in 1936. He said most buildings downtown flooded and some collapsed. Rail service into Boston also was disrupted.

“The storm stopped over us last night. It didn’t move for close to five hours. It had dumped 11 inches (28 centimeters) of rain,” Mazzarella said at a news conference Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service had not immediately confirmed that figure. It said 9.5 inches (24 centimeters) had fallen in the city as of 10 p.m. Monday.

Mazzarella said Leominster has 12 hills, “and obviously, from those hills comes the water.”


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On Monday night, in a recording posted online, Mazzarella had urged people to “Find a high spot somewhere. Find a high spot and stay there until this is over.”

He said if there were any injuries they were minor.

Steve Forcier, 62, said he was half asleep watching television in his mobile home when firefighters knocked on his door late Monday night.

“It was a little intimidating, a little frightening,” he said Tuesday morning outside the school where he and others spent the night. “When I looked out there, I said, ‘Holy crap!’”

The water outside was about waist-high, Forcier said, but he had minimal damage to his home when he evacuated. Firefighters used inflatable rafts to bring residents of the mobile home park to trucks and buses.

“It’s been a very emotional roller coaster for many,” Leominster Schools Superintendent Paula Deacon said outside the shelter, where at least 80 people had stayed overnight. “They don’t know what happened to their homes, many of them left with nothing, so they’re anxious to get back to see the conditions of where they live, talk to people they care about,” she said.

Deacon said she’s never experienced that type of emergency response and came away impressed.

“There were so many people here with open arms to help navigate. We just all jumped in and started taking care of one another, and that’s a tribute to this community.”

Early Tuesday, the city said people living in areas near a brook and the North Nashua River in Leominster should “immediately evacuate” as a precaution, “due to a potential issue at the Barrett Park Pond Dam.”

“This particular dam is one that we’re actually about to replace, and it is very sensitive. It is water-saturated and we worry about that downstream,” Mazzarella said at the news conference.

The dam is a 15-foot-tall (4.5-meter-tall) earthen structure listed in poor condition and posing a significant hazard, meaning its failure could result in economic damages, but would not be expected to cause loss of life, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams. The database shows it was last inspected in November 2017, though it’s supposed to be inspected every five years.

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