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Flooding drowns Northeast

Photo by Charles Krupa

Photo by Charles Krupa

CRANSTON, R.I. -- Flooding on a scale rarely seen in New England forced hundreds of people from their homes and businesses Wednesday, overwhelmed sewage systems and isolated communities as it washed out bridges and rippled across thoroughfares from Maine to Connecticut.

Three days of record-breaking rains tapered to a drizzle, then stopped before the waters in hard-hit Rhode Island finally crested. But authorities across New England warned that the flooding -- far worse than an indundation two weeks ago in the same areas -- could linger for days.

Rhode Island experienced its worst flooding in more than 100 years. The swollen Pawtuxet River threatened to collapse a bridge in the town of Coventry, sending residents of a neighborhood fleeing. A stretch of the main East Coast highway, Interstate 95, shut down, and Amtrak suspended some trains on its busy Northeast lines.

Every resident of Rhode Island, a state of about 1 million, was asked to conserve water and electricity because of flooded sewage systems and electrical substations. The waters either stranded hundreds of people or sent them to shelters. Many of those who stayed behind appeared shell-shocked.

Angelo Padula Jr.'s auto restoration shop in West Warwick, Angelo Padula & Son Used Auto, stood in 10 feet of water from the Pawtuxet River -- after 100 years in business, its likely death knell, Padula said.

''I think we're all done,'' he said. ''If the federal government doesn't give us disaster money, I don't think we can ever come back from this. You're talking millions and millions of dollars in these businesses. Now I know how the people in New Orleans felt.''

The flooding caps a month that set rainfall records across the region. Boston measured nearly 14 inches for March, breaking the previous record for the month, set in 1953.

New Jersey, New York City and Portland, Maine, surpassed similar records.

Providence registered its rainiest month on record, period, with a total of more than 15 inches of rain in March.

Gov. Don Carcieri called the flooding ''unprecedented in our state's history.'' President Barack Obama had issued an emergency declaration late Tuesday for Rhode Island, ordering federal aid for relief and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate efforts.