Flooding in Leominster: Dams being shored up, Healey declares Mass. state of emergency

Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency after touring Leominster and North Attleborough following Monday's flash flooding

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Two dams needed to be shored up in Leominster on Tuesday, one of several Massachusetts communities still reeling from flash flooding that dropped historic amounts of rain Monday night.

Gov. Maura Healey issued a state of emergency across the commonwealth Tuesday night.



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"Today I saw firsthand the devastating impacts of severe flooding in Leominster and North Attleborough – and it was painfully clear that Massachusetts is in a state of emergency," Healey said in a statement. "This declaration will expedite our efforts to deliver relief to impacted communities and bolster our ability to access federal resources."

Flash flooding Monday left large sinkholes across Leominster, and people who live near a dam have been forced to evacuate.

In Leominster, roads and MBTA commuter train tracks were washed out, buildings were flooded and damaged, people were in emergency shelters and school was set to close for a second day in a row — people were still being rescued on Tuesday.

Leominster was already under a local state of emergency before Healey toured the city. She also said she'd spoken to the Biden administration about the situation.

"Devastating times right now in this community," Healey said earlier. "We'll do everything that we can."

Gov. Maura Healey toured the damage left by intense flash flooding in Leominster and North Attleborough, Massachusetts, and spoke about what she saw.

School was canceled Tuesday and Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella said he was canceling school again Wednesday: "It's just better at this point for everyone's safety that we give it one more day."

Two dams were damaged by the storm. One had already been shored up, Healey said about 2:30 p.m., while the other was expected to be shored up by the end of the day.

Other parts of Massachusetts and New England faced flash flooding on Monday night — Healey toured North Attleborough — but Leominster had the heaviest rainfall. The National Weather Service put the total at 9.5 inches, while Mazarella said 11 inches fell.

See rainfall totals from across Massachusetts here.

Governor Maura Healey is scheduled to tour the damage Tuesday afternoon.

Leominster dam situation latest

On Tuesday morning, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency issued an evacuation alert for people in low-lying areas of the Fall Brook tributary to Fall Brook along Central Street, Fall Brook and the North Nashua River in Leominster, citing a potential issue with the Barrett Park Pond Dam. Shelter was available at Skyview Middle School.

The dam is a 15-foot-tall earthen structure listed in poor condition and posing a significant hazard, meaning its failure could result in economic damages, but would not be expected to cause loss of life, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams. The database shows it was last inspected in November 2017, though it’s supposed to be inspected every five years.

School closures

Schools in Leominster cancelled classes Tuesday, after the intense rain closed roads like Route 2, caused sinkholes and led to cars getting stuck.

Drone and helicopter footage shows the widespread damage caused by Monday night's flash flooding.

When the state of emergency was declared in the city, an emergency shelter was opened at Frances Drake Elementary School.

“It’s been a very emotional roller coaster for many,” Leominster Schools Superintendent Paula Deacon said outside the shelter, where at least 80 people had stayed overnight. "They don’t know what happened to their homes, many of them left with nothing, so they’re anxious to get back to see the conditions of where they live, talk to people they care about,” she said.

Deacon said she’s never experienced that type of emergency response and came away impressed.

“There were so many people here with open arms to help navigate. We just all jumped in and started taking care of one another, and that’s a tribute to this community.”

'Just insanity, huge floods'

Elsewhere in the city, a building partially collapsed on Spruce Street. Crews actually searched the building that houses a flea market and some businesses because of initial reports that people might have been trapped in the basement.

Flooding created gridlock throughout the city and treacherous driving, especially as it got dark. People who got caught in the worst of it said they’ve never seen anything like it.

“Just insanity, huge floods… can’t go anywhere, I mean everything’s flooded out, it’s just absolute chaos," Ethan Blake said.

“My car actually stood still for one moment, I guess that’s how deep – and I have a Jeep and it’s pretty tall, so there are certain parts where it’s very, very deep," Anthony Morenos added.

The area saw historic flooding as inches of rain poured down Monday evening.

Steve Forcier said he was half asleep watching television in his mobile home when firefighters knocked on his door late Monday night.

“It was a little intimidating, a little frightening,” he said Tuesday morning outside the school where he and others spent the night. “When I looked out there, I said, ‘Holy crap!’”

The water outside was about waist-high, Forcier said, but he had minimal damage to his home when he evacuated. Firefighters used inflatable rafts to bring residents of the mobile home park to trucks and buses.

Flash flooding submerged vehicles and left sinkholes on the roadways in Leominster, with heavy rain also impacting other parts of the state.

Mazzarella, along with other local and state officials, gave an update on the flooding response on Tuesday morning. He said there were around 15 roads still closed in town, and that crews were still working to assess damage around the city.

“The storm stopped over us last night. It didn't move for close to five hours. It had dumped 11 inches of rain,” Mazzarella said.

Mazzarella said Leominster has 12 hills, “and obviously, from those hills comes the water.”

But he said if there were any injuries they were minor.

Many residents had to be evacuated as water came into their basements. Mazzarella said there were around 100 people sheltered at the Frances Drake school, and said that some of the other schools were badly damaged. Businesses and homes were also damaged, while dozens, if not hundreds of cars had to be towed out of floodwaters Monday night.

He said there were at least several homes in Leominster where “the water washed out around them" and the foundations could be seen about 8 feet below, as well as pipelines under the street.

The deputy director of MEMA said the storm really targeted Leominster, with even neighboring Fitchburg seeing much less severe impacts.

There was a flash flood warning in the area Monday evening.

Before touring the damage, Healey called the damage "castrophic."

"There are catastrophic floods in the Leominster area and other communities across the state this evening," she said in a statement on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, on Monday night. "My heart goes out to the impacted communities and public safety personnel.

Mazzarella urged people in a recording posted online Monday night not to venture outside and to stay off the roads.

"Find a high spot somewhere. Find a high spot and stay there until this is over," he said.

"There are roads that are washed out and you can't tell, cause you're seeing maybe what looks like a few inches of water, but there's a road that's washed out from underneath it," Mazzarella. "We've had tow trucks here all night long towing people out and rescuing people that end up in water that looks like it's six or eight inches — it ends up being two or three feet."

Outside of Leominster, MEMA responded to North Attleborough on Monday night, where there were still two lingering road closures on Tuesday morning. About 200 homes had flood damage there. Flood damage was also reported in Rhode Island and Nashua, New Hampshire.

The Fitchburg and Providence Lines of the MBTA Commuter Rail were both experiencing delays on Tuesday morning due to flooding in the Leominster and Providence areas.

New England has seen its share of flooding this summer, including a storm that dumped up to two months of rain in two days in Vermont in July, resulting in two deaths. During the severe flooding the swamped the capital city of Montpelier, the city manager warned that a dam several miles to the north could exceed capacity, drastically adding to the flood damage. Police said waters had risen to within a foot of the top of the dam. Hours later, officials said river levels at the dam appeared to be stable and the dam did not spill over.

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