New Englanders Wait for Waters to Recede After Historic Floods

Jeffrey Saba knew there was a garage full of leaf blowers and lawn mowers somewhere in the murky floodwater below his canoe, and the landscaper knew he wouldn't be using any of them any time soon.

"We are up against a battle now," the 42-year-old said as he checked on his home along the Merrimack River. "The next couple of days will be just a waiting game."

Homeowners across New Hampshire, Massachusetts and southern Maine have stood by helpless as five days of record rainfall — 17 inches in some places — pushed rivers over their banks and flooded streets, homes and businesses, washing debris and sewage downstream and threatening the region's dams.

Wednesday morning, a torrent of water was rushing through downtown Amesbury, threatening a stone wall along the swollen Powow River that had begun to give way.

In central New Hampshire, crews breached one dam along the Newfound River in Bristol on Tuesday night to relieve pressure and avoid flooding. Another dam upstream had loose bolts, and more than 200 residents were urged to evacuate as a precaution.

Along the coast, 1,300 people were evacuated from Newmarket, N.H., as the fire chief nervously watched a dam on the raging Lamprey River. Workers in Haverhill, Mass., tried to repair a sewage pipe dumping 35 million gallons of waste a day into the Merrimack River. Sewage and debris also forced the closure of miles of shellfish beds.

More than a foot of rain fell across a wide swath of New England between Friday and Tuesday, creating the region's worst flooding in 70 years. At least 2,500 people were forced from their homes by the flooding, schools closed because the buses couldn't get through, and hundreds of roads were washed out.

The rain finally stopped on Tuesday, and many of the rivers crested. Police reported a single fatality, a 59-year-old New Hampshire man whose body was found in a partially submerged car on closed road north of Boston.

State officials, meanwhile, prepared to apply for federal help. Gov. Mitt Romney said the damage in his state alone would be in the tens of millions.

Forecasters predicted scattered showers through the weekend, but the rains should be lighter, with most areas seeing more sun than clouds.

"There's pleasant weather on tap," said Charlie Foley, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Part of heavily traveled U.S. Route 1 north of Boston remained closed Wednesday, with dozens of crews working pumps to clear the six-lane road. Still, chambers of commerce along Maine's York County coast, a busy tourism region, said they were confident that hotels and restaurants would be ready for Memorial Day weekend.

On a flood-ravaged street in Goffstown, N.H., Richard Bergeron stood looking at the four-foot-high water line that now runs along the walls inside his home. The Piscataqua River had finally eased out, but the house would probably have to be gutted.

"My whole life is pretty much wiped out," he said Wednesday during a brief trip home to check on his property. "It's total devastation."