Northeastern US mops up ahead of holidays after deadly storm slams the region, killing at least 5
Dec 19, 2023, 5:45 AM | Updated: 5:58 pm
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Just days before the Christmas holiday, people across the northeastern U.S. were mopping up Tuesday after a major storm dumped torrential rains and brought damaging winds from Pennsylvania to Maine, as some rivers in the region rose even higher. At least five people were killed.
Karen Williams, owner of Woodbury Mountain Toys in Montpelier, Vermont, which flooded in July and relocated across the street, said Monday’s weather put a damper on holiday business.
“It was about half of expectations,” she said.
By Tuesday, customers were calling to see if the store was open. “It’s been a good day so far,” she said Tuesday, noting this time she just got a couple of inches (centimeters) of water in her basement.
In South Berwick, Maine, Jessica Hyland said her family was told they’d be without power until after Christmas — a hardship for her daughter, who is on the autism spectrum. It was also going to be difficult to finish buying holiday gifts, Hyland said.
“I’m praying that’s a mistake,” Hyland said. “I won’t be able to finish my Christmas shopping and today is the last day for most places.”
In Hallowell, Maine, just south of the state capital of Augusta, the Kennebec River was spilling over its banks.
Nathan Sennett, a cook at the Quarry Tap Room in town, was wading through hip-deep water after the weather upended planning for holiday-related business.
“We were supposed to have a couple of parties today and tomorrow, and just kind of sporadically throughout the weekend,” he said. “But obviously, we’ve had to cancel those.”
Utility crews worked to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers after the powerful storm. Wind gusts reached nearly 70 mph (113 kph) along the southern New England shoreline.
“It was pretty loud. The wind was pretty strong. Branches are breaking,” said Drew Landry of Hallowell, who lost power and was looking at a street that was underwater Tuesday. “All the basements are pretty much flooded.”
More than 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain fell in parts of New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania, and portions of several other states got more than 4 inches (10 centimeters), according to the National Weather Service.
Maine State Police were looking Tuesday for two people whose car was swept away by floodwaters. Some towns in Vermont, which had suffered major flooding from a storm in July, were seeing more flood damage. Seventeen people were rescued from floodwaters in Conway, New Hampshire, four of them by helicopter.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills declared a civil state of emergency for most of the state, noting the storm had “left hundreds of thousands of people without power” and “caused significant flooding and infrastructure damage, including to the state’s federal-aid highways.”
In Portland, a 60-foot (18-meter) white pine tree came crashing down at the home of Ellen Briggs, who was away at the time. Her neighbor, Nate Woodin, said he heard the collapse while wrapping Christmas gifts and it sounded like “a lightning crash.”
Pete Chagnon, 75, in Oxford, Maine, helped a couple of people remove a tree blocking a road, one of many that had fallen in his neighborhood.
“Since moving here (in 2015), I have seen some wicked storms, but yesterday took the cake,” said Chagnon, who lost power but had a generator.
Some rivers in the region crested. The Androscoggin River in Rumford, Maine, reached a maximum stage of 22 feet (6.7 meters) in a 24-hour period ending early Tuesday, the National Weather Service said. Flood stage is 15 feet (4.6 meters). The river was expected to fall below flood stage Tuesday afternoon.
The Kennebec River at Augusta was expected to reach a crest of 25 feet (7.6 meters) Thursday evening, the weather service said. Flood stage is 12 feet (3.6 meters).
Police in the town of Fairfield along the river issued a voluntary evacuation order for some areas. In the town of Mexico, along the Swift River, police searched for two people after their car tried to turn around while crossing a bridge and got swept into the rising floodwaters. Two other occupants of the car were rescued and were treated for hypothermia.
Five months after flooding inundated Vermont’s capital, water entered the basements of some downtown Montpelier businesses as the city monitored the level of the Winooski River. Sandbags were back out on the streets, just in case they flooded.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said that although waters were receding — and the damage was not as severe as that from the July storm — it was hard on residents still recovering from the earlier flooding. No deaths related to the storm were reported in Vermont.
“Seeing homes and businesses surrounded by water once again has been heartbreaking,” Scott told reporters Tuesday. “I can’t imagine the toll that has on anyone.”
Authorities in northwestern Connecticut said they responded to numerous accidents Tuesday morning as roads drenched from Monday’s rain froze and created slippery conditions. In New Jersey, an unoccupied house surrounded by floodwaters caught fire in Lincoln Park and was engulfed by flames. Firefighters were unable to get to it.
Deaths were reported in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Maine. Several people died in submerged vehicles while others were killed by falling trees.
Rathke reported from Montpelier and Waterbury, Vermont. McCormack reported from Concord, New Hampshire. Associated Press reporters Robert Bukaty in Hallowell, Maine; Nick Perry in Gilford, New Hampshire; and David Collins in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.