Worst New England flooding in 70 years

Rain continued to pound New England today for the fourth straight day, even as residents were fleeing flood-prone areas and forecasters were warning that some areas would experience the worst flooding in 70 years.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings today for many parts of New England, and Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts today called in the National Guard to help with rescues. He said that the level of the Merrimack River that runs through Massachusetts and New Hampshire is higher than it has been since the 1930s, and that it will continue to rise through the evening.

"We've seen a lot of evacuations already," he said in a news conference this afternoon. "Hundreds and hundreds of people have been moved out of their homes, but it's going to get worse before it gets better," reports New York Times.

According to Bloomberg, parts of northeastern Massachusetts from Gloucester to Peabody received between 12 to 15 inches of rain and may get up to four inches more in the next 24 hours, said Charlie Foley, National Weather Service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts said.

Boston recorded 3.77 inches of rain yesterday, breaking the May 14 record.

Up to half an inch of rain is expected to fall in southern New Hampshire and southern Maine through noon today, likely prolonging the flooding, the weather service said.

The second-worst flooding on record is likely to occur on the Merrimack River, which begins in central New Hampshire and flows into the Atlantic at Newburyport, Massachusetts, the weather service said. In Lowell, the Merrimack was at 57.6 feet as of 5 a.m., according to the weather service. Flood stage is 52 feet, and the river is forecast to rise to 60.7 feet by 8 p.m. The Merrimack's record flood happened during a hurricane in 1938.

Bands of heavy rain have kept soaking northeastern Massachusetts and southern Maine and New Hampshire and that pattern will continue at least until tomorrow, Foley said.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and New Hampshire Governor John Lynch have mobilized the National Guard to assist residents of riverside areas in evacuating.

More than 330 people were housed at emergency shelters in Massachusetts and New Hampshire last night, American Red Cross spokespeople said, and three shelters were opened in Maine.

At least 50 homes were evacuated in Maine, and Governor John Baldacci has declared a state of emergency in York County, according to a statement from his office.

Most people who evacuate typically stay with friends and family, so it's difficult to get a full picture of the number of evacuations, said Hugh Drummond, spokesman for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay, which opened or supported 11 shelters that housed about 250 people. In New Hampshire, 84 people stayed in 20 shelters last night, said Carol Yelverton, spokeswoman for Red Cross's northeast region.

"Obviously we're still closely monitoring all of the rivers, particularly rivers like the Merrimack," Drummond said.

Authorities were checking about a dozen dams at risk of failing if conditions worsened, said Jim Van Dongen, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Bureau of Emergency Management. He said about 600 New Hampshire roads had been closed.

"We're not out of the woods yet," he said. About 420 National Guard troops had been called out in New Hampshire.

The storm is the biggest downpour to hit the region since October 1996, said Charlie Foley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service bureau in Taunton, Massachusetts.

No injuries or power outages were reported as of early Monday morning, partly because no strong winds accompanied the storm. But officials cautioned that the situation could worsen as the continued heavy rains threatened to overwhelm rivers, informs Reuters.