Moving inland, Storm Henri floods the northeastern United States
WEST, RI (AP) – Storm Henri weakened to a tropical depression on Sunday evening as it crawled northeast and continued to unleash torrential rains over an area already saturated with heavy rains and winds that cut power to over 100,000 houses and flooded roads, closed bridges and left people stranded in their vehicles.
Henri made landfall on the Rhode Island coast on Sunday, and the National Hurricane Center warned the slow storm would continue to bring heavy rain to large swathes of the region.
The storm was downgraded from a hurricane before reaching New England, leaving many to breathe a sigh of relief. There have been few early reports of major damage from wind or waves.
But the heavy and sustained rains from the storm raised concerns about flooding caused by the storm that threatened to stop over the region before pivoting east and moving towards the Atlantic Ocean on Monday evening. Some of the highest rainfall totals were expected inland.
President Joe Biden on Sunday vowed to deliver federal aid as quickly as possible to residents of the northeastern states affected by Henry. The president has declared disasters across much of the region, opening the purse strings for federal stimulus aid.
“We are doing all we can now to help these states prepare, respond and recover,” the president said.
Biden earlier offered his condolences to the people of Tennessee after severe flooding caused by an unrelated storm killed at least 22 people, including young children and the elderly, and left dozens of others missing.
As of Sunday night, Henri had sustained winds of around 35 mph (56 km / h) as he passed through Connecticut and Massachusetts, according to the National Hurricane Center. When it made landfall near Westerly, Rhode Island, it had sustained winds of around 60 mph and gusts of up to 70 mph.
Several major bridges in Rhode Island, which connect much of the state, were briefly closed on Sunday and some coastal roads were nearly impassable.
Western resident Collette Chisholm, a 20-year-old resident, said the waves were much higher than normal but said she was not worried about her home being seriously damaged.
“I like storms,” she says. “I think they’re exciting, as long as no one gets hurt.”
In Newport, Paul and Cherie Saunders were weathering the storm at a home his family has owned since the late 1950s. Their basement was flooded with 5 feet of water during Super Storm Sandy nine years ago.
“This house has been through so many hurricanes and so much has happened,” said Cherie Saunders, 68. “We’ll just wait and see what happens.”
Rhode Island has been periodically hit by hurricanes and tropical storms including Super Storm Sandy in 2012, Irene in 2011, and Hurricane Bob in 1991. The city of Providence has suffered so much damage from hurricane flooding in 1938 and Hurricane Carol in 1954 that she built a hurricane barrier in the 1960s to protect her downtown area from a storm surge going up Narragansett Bay. This barrier – and the new gates built nearby – were closed for hours on Sunday before reopening.
The National Weather Service recorded what could be the wettest hour on record in Central Park, with 1.94 inches of torrential rain hitting the park between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Saturday. Earlier in the evening, thousands of people attending a Homecoming concert in the park were forced to disperse due to heavy rains.
“I call it the wettest hour in New York, New York, for the record books,” said Dominic Ramunni, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, New York.
The weekend was the wettest two-day period in New York since Tropical Storm Irene hit a decade ago, said Dominic Ramunni, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, New York.
Some communities in central New Jersey were inundated with up to eight inches of rain at noon Sunday. In Jamesburg, television video footage showed downtown streets flooded and cars almost completely submerged.
In Newark, Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara said police and firefighters rescued 86 people in 11 incidents related to the storm. He said “heavy flooding” resulted in several vehicles being submerged in flooded areas.
“It could have been a lot worse, especially when it comes to the wind,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Sunday night.
Likewise, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Henri was about to be in the “rearview mirror,” but said there was still work to be done, even though mandatory evacuations were lifted in some communities. Earlier today, around 250 residents of four coastal nursing homes were transferred to other nursing homes.
Forecasts raised fears that the worst effects of precipitation were yet to come in an area where soil in many areas is saturated by recent rains.
Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric science program at the University of Georgia and former president of the American Meteorological Society, said Henry was in some ways reminiscent of Hurricane Harvey, a slow storm that decimated the Houston area in 2017.
“On the west side of the storm, you have a banding feature that’s literally stationary – sitting there and pouring rain. It will be a significant danger to the New York and New Jersey area, ”Shepherd said.
After Tropical Storm Irene roared along the coast in August 2011, many were relieved when the New York area was largely spared. But then the storm settled over the Green Mountains, and Irene became the biggest natural disaster to hit Vermont since an epic flood of 1927. Parts of the state received 11 inches of rain in just 24 hours. . Irene has killed six people in Vermont, left thousands homeless, and damaged or destroyed more than 200 bridges and 500 miles of highway.
“I remember Irene and media outside Vermont brushing him aside like it didn’t matter while he was hitting Vermont,” podcaster Robert Welch tweeted Sunday. “I’ll relax when I see him at sea on radar.”
As of Sunday afternoon, power outages affected more than 78,000 customers in Rhode Island, 32,000 in Connecticut, 9,000 in Massachusetts and 4,000 in New York.
In one of his last appearances as governor before he stepped down on Monday over a sexual harassment scandal, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that with the threat diminishing on Long Island, the state’s main concern was inland areas like the Hudson River Valley, north of New York City, which is expected to receive a few inches of rain over the next few days.
“In the Hudson Valley you have hills, you have streams, the water rushes down those hills and turns a stream into a devastating river,” Cuomo said. “I saw small towns in these mountainous regions devastated by rain. This is still a very real possibility.
Major airports in the region remained open as the storm approached, although hundreds of Sunday flights were canceled. Service on some branches of the New York City commuter rail system was suspended until Sunday, as was Amtrak service between New York City and Boston.
Norbert Weissberg watched the waves from the edge of an East Hampton beach parking lot as strong winds whipped an American flag fluttering on an unmanned lifeguard chair.
“I’m always excited to see something as fierce as this,” Weissberg said. “It’s less fierce than I thought. We are all prepared for a major, major calamity, and it’s a little less than that. “
Kunzelman reported from Newport, Rhode Island. Porter reported from New York. Associated Press editors William J. Kole in Warwick, Rhode Island, Michelle Smith in Providence, Rhode Island, Michael R. Sisak and Julie Walker of East Hampton, Will Lester in Washington, Michael Melia in Hartford, Connecticut, Susan Haigh in Norwich, Connecticut, and Bobby Caina Calvan in New York contributed to this report.