Intense rainstorms that inundated the Northeast turned streets into rivers, forced evacuations and prompted officials in Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, to close the downtown area.
“Make no mistake, the devastation and flooding we’re experiencing across Vermont is historic and catastrophic,” Gov. Phil Scott told reporters Tuesday.
Floodwaters in some areas “surpassed levels seen during Tropical Storm Irene,” the governor said. Irene hit the United States as a hurricane in August 2011 and left entire communities submerged, killing more than 40 people in several Eastern states.
The current flooding claimed thousands of homes and businesses, Scott added.
In downtown Montpelier, authorities issued a travel ban that lasted through Tuesday afternoon. A boil water notice remains in place for the city, after officials warned the “extreme flooding” could contaminate the drinking water supply.
The city and surrounding communities saw “record-breaking flooding” in two days, Montpelier officials said Tuesday afternoon. The city’s downtown area remains flooded and is not safe for public travel, they added.
The city was hammered by a record-setting 5.28 inches of rainfall Monday, the National Weather Service in Burlington said. That’s more than any other day on record, including when Irene dropped 5.27 inches of rain on the state capital on August 28, 2011.
“Irene had about a 12-hour duration of rain, and then it was over” the governor said. “This is different. We’ve had like 48 hours of steady rain,” he said, adding more rain is expected in the coming days.
Vermont remains under a state of emergency, with water in downtown Montpelier running from knee to waist deep Tuesday, stranding residents in their homes and shutting down roads and businesses. The flooding forced evacuations and more than 100 rescues in the state, Urban Search and Rescue manager Mike Cannon told CNN.
“In many areas, the water conditions remain too dangerous for rescue by boat,” state public safety commissioner Jennifer Morrison said Tuesday.
“There are life-threatening isolations that we are trying to identify and rescue,” Morrison added.
President Joe Biden spoke with Scott and other officials about the flooding, the White House said Tuesday, adding it is coordinating with state and local officials and monitoring the flood impacts.
New Hampshire will send swift boat rescue crews and Black Hawk helicopters to assist with the response to the flooding in Vermont, Gov. Chris Sununu said. Teams from Connecticut, Massachusetts and North Carolina are currently in Vermont to provide assistance and others are en route, the Vermont Department of Public Safety said.
In Montpelier, the police department relocated its dispatch, police and fire operations due to heavy flooding in the basement of City Hall and the fire and police departments, Police Chief Eric Nordenson said Tuesday.
Authorities were also monitoring the Wrightsville Dam in Montpelier late Tuesday, after water levels earlier in the day inched toward the dam’s spillway.
In an 8:30 p.m. update, Montpelier officials said the dam’s water level was beginning to recede and was not expected to breach the spillway. On Wednesday, crews will begin clearing mud and debris from the city’s roadways, building inspections will start in the downtown area and clean-up efforts will begin, officials said.
Flood alerts affecting over 2 million people across parts of New England and Oklahoma expired Tuesday, but flood warnings remain in both regions.
The bodies of two children were recovered from Lake Overholser, a reservoir in Oklahoma City, after authorities said they were swept up Monday evening in strong currents following heavy rainfall in the city over the weekend.
The children, who authorities said were 10 and 11 years old, were among a group of four that was fishing in the area and entered the water.
“The strong water currents pulled two boys under water while the other two safely made it to a concrete ledge,” Oklahoma City Fire Department Capt. John Chenoweth said.
One resident saw water ‘rising quickly’
As the rain lessens in Vermont, Scott cautioned against a false sense of complacency. “The water has to go someplace, the reservoirs are filling up, and we have to determine the next phase, the next wave,” he said.
Betsy Hart called 911 when the floodwater suddenly started rising fast at the basement of her Chester property in Windsor County.
“Water was rising quickly after being pretty tame most of the morning,” Hart told CNN’s Miguel Marquez. “All of a sudden, it was in the house.”
Hart said she’s never experienced flooding like what she saw Monday. “It was too close for comfort,” she said.
“With Hurricane Irene, the water was raging like this, but it never really got to the house,” she said, standing on a road near her home as water rushed nearby.
Numerous rivers across Vermont rose amid the downpours, with some swelling higher than levels reached during Hurricane Irene. The Winooski River at Montpelier rose nearly 14 feet Monday and passed major flood stage as the water continued to climb, threatening further flooding.
The Ball Mountain Dam and the Townshend Dam, in southwestern Vermont, were expected to overflow their spillways,” the US Army Corps of Engineers warned Monday night. Warning of “severe flooding,” the agency urged residents in threatened low-lying areas of nearby Vermont and New Hampshire communities to evacuate.
Rainfall is at 300% to 500% of normal
Seven-day rainfall totals across much of the Northeast were already at 300% to 500% of normal levels, the Weather Prediction Center said Monday.
Widespread rainfall of 2 to 4 inches fell across the Northeast from eastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey into Vermont and New Hampshire. Isolated rainfall totals higher than 6 inches have been seen in several states.
In New York, a 35-year-old woman died after being swept away by floodwater as she tried to evacuate her Orange County home Sunday. The flooding has caused “easily tens of millions of dollars in damage,” county Executive Steve Neuhaus said Monday.
Some areas in New York were hammered with more than 8 inches of rain within a 24-hour period.
In the northern part of the state, a state of emergency was declared for the town of Long Lake due to severe flooding that destroyed roads and bridges, downed electric supply lines and forced some residents to evacuate, Long Lake town supervisor Clay Arsenault said in a declaration. A state of emergency is in effect for Hamilton County through Wednesday morning.
Long Lake officials also said non-essential travel in the town is not allowed at this time.
Water rushing into homes
In Vermont, state Rep. Kelly Pajala said she woke up Monday morning to floodwater already at the front step of her Londonderry apartment. She and her son packed up their two cats and evacuated to higher ground.
Floodwater could be seen gushing between homes in Chester, where some structures were visibly damaged and trucks were wheels-deep.
Don Hancock, dripping in water from head to toe, told CNN he has only lived in his house for less than a year and watched floodwater enter the basement and garage of his new home.
“I was a firefighter in New York. I’ve been there many of times to help people out, but I’ve never lived this side of it,” Hancock said. “Once the water goes down, we go day by day, clean it up and move on. What can we do?”
CNN Meteorologist Taylor Ward and CNN’s Jessica Xing, Roxanne Garcia, Artemis Moshtaghian, Raja Razek, Sara Smart, Nikki Carvajal and Amanda Jackson contributed to this report.