‘Catastrophic flooding’ damages hundreds of homes as a city engulfed in water is now at risk of dam failure

Massachusetts cities devastated by floodwater could face new perils as more rain is on the way and officials wonder whether a “very sensitive” dam will hold up.

The state has seen “catastrophic flooding” since Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said Tuesday from North Attleborough.

About a dozen homes in the town were completely under water Tuesday, said Chris Coleman, North Attleborough’s fire and emergency management chief.

And about 200 homes were damaged in and around North Attleborough after a storm Monday quickly dumped about 5 inches of rain on ground already saturated from a weekend storm, officials said.

“It was really scary, the amount of water that fell in just a short amount of time and the incredible devastation that it caused,” the governor said.

No civilian injuries have been reported from the North Attleborough flooding, but a firefighter was injured overnight and was in stable condition, Coleman said Tuesday.

She also said the massive flooding that hit various regions of Massachusetts “severely impacted” two dams, damaged railroad tracks and forced a number of seniors to be evacuated by boats in the middle of the night.

“One of those dams has been shored up already and the other will be shored up by the end of the day,” said Healey, who toured the damage on Tuesday.

Leominster was another city in Massachusetts to face a torrential downpour this week. The city got pummeled by roughly 11 inches of rain in just six to seven hours, Mayor Dean Mazzarella said Tuesday.

Some basements in Leominster “probably have feet of water inside of them,” Mazzarella said.

“We have several homes where the water washed out … you can see the foundation of the home.”

While no serious injuries have been reported, the mayor said, “We had to evacuate people last night … with hovercrafts and boats to get people out to safety.”

Leominster was quickly inundated not just by torrential downpours, but also from water gushing downhill.

“Leominster is about 26 square miles. We have 12 hills, and obviously from those hills comes the water,” the mayor said. “And with 11 inches of rain, it just adds to the … water (going) downhill.”

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has urged some residents to evacuate due to “a potential issue at the Barrett Park Pond Dam,” MEMA said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“This particular dam is one that we’re actually about to replace,” Mazzarella said. “It is very sensitive. It’s water saturated. And we’re worried about that downstream. So, we’ve put out a code red and notified everyone along that stream bank, along that river base … to evacuate.”

And it’s not clear when children in Leominster will be able to go back to school.

“Our schools are closed” Tuesday, the mayor said. “We have a couple of schools that experienced severe damage and flooding. And the other schools are open for shelters.”

The deluge has also washed away roads and created a large sinkhole, Mazzarella said.

“That was the road … it’s gone,” the mayor said in a Facebook video showing the massive sinkhole.

MEMA staff have been on-scene in #Leominster since last night supporting the local flood response & coordinating requests for assistance, including 3,000 sandbags, additional shelter staff, traffic sign boards & shelter equipment to support residents with disabilities. #ThisIsEM pic.twitter.com/uQbmYQhlUQ

— MEMA (@MassEMA) September 12, 2023

Videos posted on social media showed vehicles submerged by dark floodwater covering a highway. Other footage shows emergency vehicles trying to navigate a street overtaken by rapidly moving water as rain keeps falling. Another video shows water filling a gaping sinkhole in the middle of a street lined with houses.

The torrent was so intense that a packed, 8-foot by 8-foot dumpster traveled down a local river and ended up in the middle of a riverwalk trail, Mazzarella said. Officials have no idea where the dumpster came from.

While the rain has largely subsided in Leominster, “it’s going to take a while for the rivers to reach their peak,” Mazzarella said Tuesday morning.

While the area gets a reprieve from heavy rain Tuesday, but another round of storms could move through Wednesday.

Most of the Northeast – including central Massachusetts – faces a slight risk of excessive rainfall late Wednesday and early Thursday, according to the Weather Prediction Center.

And more rain could thrash Massachusetts and eastern New England this weekend, depending on the track of Hurricane Lee.

The governor said local and state agencies are working to address damages in zones impacted by the storms and that her office is preparing an emergency declaration that will be issued later Tuesday.

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