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Flash flood water washed away earth under MBTA commuter rail track in North Leominster Monday night. Workers inspect the tracks Tuesday morning. Buses are running between Wachusett station and Shirley station. @telegramdotcom @MBTA @MBTA_CR pic.twitter.com/CMyrsLsk2P
— Rick Cinclair (@RickCinclair) September 12, 2023
After floodwaters turned streets into rivers, receding to reveal buckled or washed-out roadways, Leominster spent Tuesday assessing the fallout from nearly 10 inches of rain that fell Monday night.
Gov. Maura Healey visited the city Tuesday afternoon to tour damage. During a press conference alongside Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella at the city's emergency management headquarters, Healey thanked first responders, saying, "When you talk about having to hustle through the night, dealing with things that happen so quickly that put so many people in harm’s way, it’s incredible.”
School in Leominster was called off for Wednesday. There was no school Tuesday.
"We're going to be at this for quite a while before we can get everything back to normal," Mazzarella said earlier, in a morning news conference. All parts of the city were hit, he said.
Concern over flooding continued early Tuesday when officials urged the evacuation of residents in the areas of certain ponds and waterways.
Emergency workers were concerned about the dam at Barrett Park, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. Residents were able to take shelter at Sky View Middle School.
"Due to a potential issue at the Barrett Park Pond Dam, persons in low-lying areas of the Fall Brook tributary to Fall Brook along Central St, Fall Brook & the North Nashua River, should evacuate & safely leave the area," the agency posted on social media about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.
By Tuesday afternoon, Mazzarella said the situation at the dam was under control.
Heavy rain slammed northern Worcester County in the late afternoon and evening of Monday, with many roads in Leominster impassable. Some were undermined, with asphalt giving way. There were reports of building foundations being compromised. Many homes had flooded basements.
Firefighters from Leominster, aided by colleagues from throughout the region, fanned out across the city to rescue motorists and residents left stranded by floodwaters Monday evening.
The National Weather Service declared a flash flood emergency in Leominster, Fitchburg and Lunenburg through early Tuesday.
Tuesday, the weather service reported that 9.5 inches of rain had fallen in Leominster.
Steve Forcier was among the residents of the Meadowbrook Acres mobile home park to seek refuge at the Frances Drake Elementary School on Viscoloid Avenue. He said he was half asleep with the TV on when he heard an urgent knock on his front door Monday evening. The person on the other side of the door told him people were being evacuated before the flooding intensified.
“I just threw some clothes on and I walked out my door,” Forcier said Tuesday morning. “It was thigh-high in water at my driveway. By the time I got out to the road, it was waist deep in water.”
Forcier said he has never seen anything like this.
“There were several fire departments are over here from different towns ‒ Fitchburg, Sterling, Leominster, Lunenburg – and they’re putting people on inflatable rafts and taking them to this big military truck and bringing them out where it was dry, at the park, where it’s a little higher,” he said. “It was a mess.”
Paul McGuy, who has lived at Meadowbrook Acres for seven years, Tuesday morning was pulling out anything salvageable from his flooded enclosed porch into his driveway, which was covered in slippery mud.
“The porch is devastated,” McGuy said. “The water just came up so quick. We didn’t even have a chance to do anything about it. It was just so fast. The water just came and by the time you knew it, the porch was flooded. It was almost up to the windows. It was high.”
Assessing the water damage, McGuy said everything on the porch is ruined but the rising flood waters didn’t make into his interior of his trailer home.
“My car was damaged. My wife’s car was damaged,” McGuy said. “We were all evacuated last night.”
Although rescue workers recommended he jump in an inflatable raft and not his pickup truck, McGuy drove away in the truck.
“I didn’t want that to get ruined as well,” he said.
Shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday, the city said residents of Meadowbrook Acres could return to their homes.
The heavy rain in a short time span was too much for the drainage system to handle. Monoosnoc Brook, which stretches through several areas of the city, was flowing with great force.
Route 2 was closed in both directions for several hours Monday, with a section of the road in Leominster under as much as 4 feet of water. The highway was passable before dawn Tuesday.
Some secondary roads in the area were also covered by deep water late Monday, with motorists abandoning cars. Those who remained with their vehicles were brought to safety by firefighters and other rescuers.
Flooding turned a section of Exchange Street into a powerful river. Shortly before 11 p.m., Leominster officials began evacuating some houses in the area.
On Pleasant Street at Colburn Street, water washed out a wide section of the roadway and carried away several feet of soil from the front yard of a nearby home, exposing the foundation. Work crews spent much of Tuesday at the site.
In North Leominster, there was heavy flooding on Route 13 at the railroad underpass just north of Route 2. Commuter trains that usually use the bridge were stopped, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Service on the western end of the Fitchburg-Boston commuter rail line will begin and end at the Shirley station, with bus service linking to the Wachusett, Fitchburg and North Leominster stations.
Some sections of the rail line were undermined, with part of the earthen berm washed away. The remaining rails gave the look of an intended trestle.
That section of Route 13 remained closed Tuesday morning. About 26,000 cars travel that route daily, the mayor said.
At the nearby Durand Cadillac dealership, a few new vehicles were damaged when a sinkhole developed in the lot.
Joel Baker, the co-owner of the dealership, said that when he arrived at work Tuesday morning, the parking lot was full of standing water and a drain was clogged.
Once Baker and his team were able to unclog the drain, water flowed out of the parking lot, leaving it covered in muddy silt.
“Really, it’s just a mess,” Baker said. “But we’re operating as usual. Our service department is fixing cars right now, so we just have cleanup to do.
“I never expected the water to come from the street into the dealership and cause such a problem. You would expect it to come from the river, but nothing came from the river,” Baker said. “In my 33 years, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Mazzarella declared a state of emergency early Monday evening.
"Trust me when I tell you, if you don't have to go out, don't," the mayor said in a video post on Facebook, where Mazzarella posted updates throughout the evening.
The mayor said he spoke with Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll late Monday, adding that he was assured the city would be supported by the state.
Healey posted a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, Monday night: "My heart goes out to residents and public safety officials in Leominster and other communities experiencing catastrophic flooding tonight. I’ve spoken with Mayor Mazzarella, and @MassEMA, @MassStatePolice, and @MassDFS are on the ground with boat rescue and emergency response teams doing everything they can to keep people safe."
Another resident of Meadowbrook Acre, Judi Corliss was evacuated as water was rising on her front steps. Corliss and four of her neighbors slept at her daughter’s house nearby.
“The water was up to my knees, walking out of here,” Corliss said. “It was scary. We had to hold on to the house as we walked up because in the middle (of the road) there was a car, a white SUV, stuck here.”
The Leominster branch of the state Registry of Motor Vehicles delayed its opening to 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Meantime, Princeton was also hit hard by the Monday rain. East Princeton Road was washed out, with Beaman and Westminster roads seeing heavy flooding. Officials declared a state of emergency. All schools in the Wachusett Regional School District, which includes Princeton, are closed Tuesday.
With reports from staff writer Tatum Goetting.
This is a developing story. Return to telegram.com for updates.
Flash Flood Emergency including Leominster MA, Fitchburg MA and Lunenburg MA until 10:30 PM EDT pic.twitter.com/IwQdjlZqAC
— NWS Boston (@NWSBoston) September 11, 2023
— Rick Cinclair (@RickCinclair) September 12, 2023
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Flash flood emergency in Leominster-Fitchburg area