Watch CBS News

Leominster flooding caused up to $40 million in damage to city infrastructure, mayor says

Leominster flooding cleanup continues with more rain in forecast
Leominster flooding cleanup continues with more rain in forecast 01:15

LEOMINSTER — More heavy rain is in the forecast Wednesday in New England, where residents were cleaning up after downpours dropped nearly 10 inches of rain in six hours and flooded parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The rainfall was a "200-year event," said Matthew Belk, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boston. Two communities declared a state of emergency and officials ordered evacuations out of concern for a dam listed in poor condition.

Rain from Hurricane Lee didn't contribute to Monday's flooding but could inundate parts of the coastal Northeast during the weekend, forecasters said.

Up to 300 people were evacuated by Tuesday morning in Leominster, Mayor Dean Mazzarella said. That included residents of a high-rise apartment building and a nursing home. Schools closed and shelters were opened. Students are set to go back to school Thursday on a delay. 

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

The mayor estimated that the flooding caused between $25 million and $45 million in damage to city infrastructure. It will be a while before major road damage and the railway will be fixed.

A Leominster road was completely washed at Pleasant and Colburn Streets. CBS Boston

"We're still talking weeks for some of these projects," Mazzarella said.

Leominster's director of emergency management, Arthur Elbthal, said two dams out of 24 in the city sustained damage but held. He said the city is reinforcing them.

Belk said a trained spotter near Leominster recorded 9.5 inches of rain. The record for rainfall in a single day in Massachusetts was set Aug. 18, 1955, when Tropical Storm Diane dropped just over 18 inches in Westfield, Belk said.

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said she's keeping a close eye on the forecast and how Hurricane Lee may affect the state as she toured flood damage in North Attleboro.

"It was really scary, the amount of water that fell in just a short amount of time and the incredible devastation that it caused," Healey said, adding she had reached out to the Biden administration, the state's congressional delegation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance.

Dawn Packer, who runs a North Attleboro home preschool, looked across the street Monday evening to see a UPS truck floating in several feet of water. Soon her yard was flooding.

"We ran downstairs. It was dry. We were happy about that. I started putting all my child care center stuff up high. All of sudden, the door smashed open. The water was so forceful. It just smashed the door open and poured in, 4 feet," she said. "The refrigerator just shot up into the air and fell down on its side. It was horrific."

On Wednesday, a generator was rumbling in their backyard as Packard and her husband tallied their losses — as much as $30,000 to $40,000 to fix an electrical system and rebuild her business.

"It's devastating to see," Packer said, her voice breaking.

Nathan Bonneau's North Attleboro home was condemned Tuesday after a building inspector assessed the flood damage. He said the water rose nearly to his height of 5 feet 10 inches.

"It just kept getting worse," he said. "I watched the water go from trickling into my garage floor to coming in my front door in a matter of 35 minutes."

Outside a shelter where at least 80 people stayed overnight, Leominster Schools Superintendent Paula Deacon said "it's been a very emotional roller coaster" for many.

"They don't know what happened to their homes, many of them left with nothing," she said.

Classes are canceled Wednesday for a second straight day in Leominster.

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," Mazzarella said.

The dam is a 15-foot-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.

In 2021, the city was awarded a $163,500 grant from the state for engineering and permitting costs associated with repairs to the dam.

Both Leominster and North Attleboro declared states of emergency.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.