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Floods Ravage Much of Northeast; Rain Forecast

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. The rain is letting up a little, but it is wet in many parts of New England. In some places, more than a foot of rain has fallen since last Friday, sending rivers over their banks, backing up sewers and flooding who knows how many basements. Several thousand people have fled their homes and officials are nervously watching dams across the region.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN WAILING)

CHRIS ARNOLD: Around the town square in Peabody, Massachusetts, today, business owners who could get to their stores were pumping out water.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER FLOWING)

ARNOLD: But with much of the downtown still severely flooded, some shop owners have to just stand here at the water's edge peering down the block at the river is still flowing around their buildings.

HARRY CORIS: From what I can see, inside the building the water is about three feet.

ARNOLD: Harry Coris owns an auto repair and used car shop where he knows a lot of his tools and equipment have been ruined. He does not have flood insurance.

CORIS: I feel terrible, but what can I do? You know, I called the mayor, I left a message, but he didn't answer to me. So, I forgive him because, you know, he is busy running around with this disaster. He isn't going to talk to me.

ARNOLD: Coris says he wants to remind city officials how many times he's asked them to fix the drainage problems on his street. But actually across the region many downtown areas faired quite well considering that many rivers rose to their highest levels in 70 years.

Officials in Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts along the Merrimack River reported that flood prevention measures taken since the 1930s spared their downtowns from more serious damage. Still, there were pockets of low lying homes all over New England that did suffer severe flooding.

MIKE TILLMAN: Five o'clock in the morning I had two firemen with a raft at my door, banging on my door.

MARILYN MALTA: Banging on my door. I thought he was going to break it off the hinges, because he was like, come on, get up, evacuate.

ARNOLD: Mike Tillman, Marilyn Malta and about 50 other people in Saugus, Massachusetts, were evacuated when a local reservoir overflowed and water rapidly spilled into their mobile home park. They're staying at a shelter run by the Red Cross at a local high school. Among them is 70-year-old Virginia Brown, a retired nurse. She says there was no sign of dangerous flooding when she went to bed Sunday night before the evacuation.

VIRGINIA BROWN: We're in an area too that rarely if ever has flooded. I've been there 10 years. He's been there 22 years, you know. And there's another gentleman that's with us that's been there over 30 years and they've never seen anything like this before. It's unbelievable. We're still in shock over it.

ARNOLD: But Kathleen Peglisi(ph) says her kids, 3, 5 and 8 years old, do not seem shocked or traumatized by being whisked from their home to the shelter.

KATHLEEN PEGLISI: They're actually ok. They were happy to see the lights, the boat, and no school and things like that. So, I'm trying not to let them know how, you know, see how I, I'm worried. I'm really scared. You know, of course, a place to live, but I'm trying not to let them see that and keep them happy. But they've been so great here and I've felt really comfortable since I walked in the door.

ARNOLD: Some of the evacuees here have lost a lot. Mike Tillman, who works at the Home Depot and does some construction, says he's seen that his mobile home is swamped and he says his van with upwards of $5000 worth of tools in it has water up to its windows. He and other residents want to know what sort of housing assistance will be available if they can't go home.

Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.
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