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Norwich area hit hard by storm

Norwich - The city experienced the worst flooding since June 1982 Tuesday as the Yantic River reached major flood levels, brooks washed across roads and water filled basements, forcing evacuations and a state of emergency declaration.

City officials reported no storm-related injuries.

By late afternoon, Gov. M. Jodi Rell had assigned 100 Connecticut National Guard troops and storm equipment to the Norwich Armory on McKinley Avenue to assist with evacuations and fill much-in-demand sandbags.

The Yantic River - dubbed the "Frantic Yantic" - rose rapidly throughout the day, reaching 13.23 feet, its third-highest level of all time, behind only the 14.66 feet it reached during the hurricane of 1938 and the 14.88-foot mark it attained during the 1982 flood.

Arters said normally, the Yantic rises fast and recedes fast when the rain stops, like a bathtub when the plug is pulled. But he said it could take longer for the water levels to drop this time, as the ground is so saturated and tributaries continue to rush into the river.

Although Fire Chief Ken Scandariato said it was "good news" that the Yantic River receded an inch by 8 p.m., he said emergency responders are still bracing for the worst. "There's a lot of water that's North of us that needs to come through," he said.

Tuesday's flooding closed businesses, roads and bridges, including the Sherman Street bridge - nicknamed the Canada Bridge - at the Asylum Street intersection, but none were in structural danger.

By late afternoon, 27 residents had been evacuated from flooded homes on Mohegan Park Road and on Sturtevant, West Town and Pleasant streets in the Yantic River area, said city Emergency Management Director Gene Arters. Individual homes where flooding presented electrical hazards also were evacuated, he said.

With so many roads closed, American Ambulance stationed ambulances at various spots in the city to reduce response times, company President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Aliano said.

But the main event, deep into the evening, was the Yantic. Dozens of spectators lined the river at a safe distance to watch the swollen waterway and snap pictures of the white water as officials huddled, anxiously awaiting its crest.

Thousands of bags of sand

The river rose steadily and rapidly throughout the day Tuesday, reaching 13 feet by 3:45 p.m. The river is considered at major flood stage at 11 feet. City Public Works crews beat the rush by erecting "Water Over Road" signs Monday night in anticipation of the flooding.

City emergency management teams filled and distributed several thousand sandbags and begged for more. Another 3,000 bags were provided by the state Office of Emergency Management and quickly used.

It was that sort of concern that forced a handful of residents to take refuge at the emergency shelter established at the Rose City Senior Center on Mahan Drive by the local chapter of the American Red Cross.

The first evacuations Tuesday occurred at the Mohegan Park Apartments on Mohegan Park Road.

An unnamed brook in Mohegan Park that swells rapidly in heavy storms and races toward downtown formed a river estimated at 5 feet deep across Mohegan Park Road near North Street. Crews evacuated Building 8 at the Mohegan Park Apartments when water streamed into the building and covered cars.

Resident Lisa Isom and her two daughters, Latajanee Volkerts, 14, and India Isom, 12, live in a lower-level apartment. Lisa Isom said she noticed a puddle on the living room floor at 7:30 p.m. Monday. By 3 a.m. Tuesday, you couldn't walk in the living room, she said. In the morning, she called city police, and the Norwich Fire Department brought her family to the senior center.

A friend took their Chihuahua. Lisa Isom fears the worst for her belongings, as water was about 18 inches deep in the apartment when she left.

"Everything is going to be ruined," said Isom, who is collecting unemployment.

Pat Korenkiewicz has lived at 69 Mohegan Park Road for the past 58 years. She remembered when the Spaulding Pond dam in Mohegan Park burst in 1963 and sent a deadly wall of water past her house and into downtown.

While the dam remained secure Tuesday, the brook that normally disappears underground between her house and the neighbor's house became a river, flooding yards and the road. She and her son, Tom Korenkiewicz, watched the water surround their house Tuesday morning, but they and their toy poodle, JR, planned to stay.

The basement had only a few inches of water Tuesday morning, and Pat Korenkiewicz hoped the sump pump could handle it.

"It goes down fast when the rain stops," she said.

Emergency crews also rescued a family at 314 Laurel Hill Ave. after a 5-foot-high retaining wall collapsed at the side of the apartment building, crashing into the building and sending debris and a waterfall gushing toward the road. The northbound lane on Laurel Hill Avenue/Route 12 was closed, and traffic turned around until the road was cleared, Police Chief Louis Fusaro said.

About 40 city officials, emergency responders, state and federal officials met Tuesday afternoon at Norwich Public Utilities to review the response and plan for the night ahead.

City Manager Alan Bergren had declared a state of emergency by late morning, and the state remains in emergency mode from last week's heavy flooding in southwestern Connecticut. Federal Emergency Management Agency crews were in the state Tuesday to tour that damage, said Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, who attended the meeting.

"Tell them to stick around," someone at the table said.

More rain gear, pumps

During the meeting, chiefs from the city's six fire departments said they mostly needed additional rain gear and motorized pumps for basements. The city department and all five volunteer departments have received hundreds of requests to pump out flooded basements.

Norwich Director of Inspections James Troeger said if water in a basement covers electrical or heating equipment, city officials ask Norwich Public Utilities to shut off the power and ask residents to evacuate. He said inspectors would be on call throughout the night.

West Town Street, Wawecus Street, along with low-lying Pleasant and Sturtevant streets were closed Tuesday. The Norwichtown Mall parking lot at the edge of the Yantic River gradually filled with water and the few businesses there closed. Across the riverbank, several more businesses on Town Street and New London Turnpike were forced to close.

Irene Marasiotis, owner of Irene's Family Restaurant on Town Street across the river from the Norwichtown Mall, closed for business by 11 a.m. Tuesday as the river reached the parking lot. She has never seen the river that high, but her employee, Debbie Dingivan has seen worse.

Dingivan's in-laws owned the previous restaurant in the building, Pizza Kitchen. During the 1982 flood, the water flooded the building to the window level, completely covering the restaurant booths.

Marasiotis said the phone didn't stop ringing Tuesday.

"So many people are calling to see if we're OK and if we need anything," she said. "That's so nice. Customers are calling saying 'Irene, you're in our thoughts and our prayers.'"

Later, at the Rose City Senior Center, 80-year-old Ethel Sullivan said she left her first-floor apartment, luckily wearing her rain boots, at Mohegan Park around 9:15 Tuesday morning to do some errands and grab some lunch. When she got back to her neighborhood around 2:30 p.m., areas around her complex were blocked off and she described roads that had water 2 feet high and cars stranded.

"There was so much water that I didn't dare put my foot in," Sullivan said.

So without being able to even approach her home, she left her Toyota wagon parked on North Street. Neighbors living next door to the Mohegan Park Apartments complex helped her find shelter at the senior center.

Sullivan said she's lived at the Mohegan Park Apartments for 20 years and has never seen flooding like this from a storm, but she's grateful for the help that strangers have provided.

"You'd rather be in your place, but this is a good place if you can't be in your own place," Sullivan said. "I have nothing but good things to say about the people helping here."

Day Staff Writers Izaskun Larraneta and Amy Renczkowski contributed to this story.

Historic crests of the Yantic River

• 1. 14.88 feet on June 5, 1982

• 2. 14.66 feet on Sept. 21, 1938

• 3. 13.23 feet on March 30, 2010

• 3. 12.74 feet on Jan. 26, 1978

• 4. 12.64 feet on Jan. 21, 1979

Source: National Weather Service

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