Flooding brought by heavy rains prompts rescues
Flooding brought by heavy rains Tuesday and Wednesday prompted dramatic rescues as well as school delays in the northern parts of the county.
Four people ended up in the swollen and surging Shetucket River in Baltic shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday, when their canoe and two kayaks overturned, Baltic fire Chief Bob Tardif said. None of the four was wearing a life jacket, he said, but three managed to make it out of the water.
The fourth, a woman, was trapped. She was clinging to a log off the northeastern shore of the river when first responders arrived, Tardif said.
The water was moving too swiftly to launch rescue boats, so first responders had to tie a rope around a Baltic firefighter equipped with a flotation device. They put him in the river upstream and he floated down to the woman, then he and she slowly made their way through the gushing water back to shore, Tardif said. The woman was transported to The William W. Backus Hospital to get checked out, he said, but she and her three companions were safe.
In addition to Baltic firefighters, the Norwich water rescue team — comprising members of the Taftville and Yantic volunteer fire departments — as well as the Lisbon Fire Department and American Ambulance had responded to the scene, Tardif said. He added that people trying to boat unsafely on a high, swift-flowing river puts such first responders "in imminent danger."
Slightly to the south and west, the Yantic River crested at 12.7 feet above its normal levels early Wednesday. That river is considered at "major flood stage" at beyond 11 feet; flood stage is 9 feet.
The National Weather Service reported Lebanon received 6.79 inches of rain; Colchester, 6.09 inches; the Gilman section of Bozrah, 6.04 inches, and Norwich, 4.07 inches, overnight and Wednesday morning. The flood warning later was extended to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, as more heavy rain was expected into the night.
In Norwichtown, Yantic volunteer fire department rescued two people about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday from an RV in a low-lying parking lot near the Dominos at 20 New London Turnpike, which is on the north side of the river.
Yantic Fire Chief Frank Blanchard said the two people in the RV flagged down a police patrol car when the vehicle was surrounded by water shortly after 3 a.m. Yantic firefighters brought their flat-bottomed Boston Whaler to the scene but ended up equipping the two people with life jackets and walking them through the 2½ feet of warm, still water to dry land.
Blanchard said they later drove the vehicle from the area.
The Norwichtown Commons shopping center on Town Street was closed for a time early Wednesday because of flooding in the parking lot but the stores weren't damaged. All stores opened later in the morning but the lower half of the parking lot remained underwater and closed.
Bill McIntosh, co-owner with his wife, Bonnie, of Colonial Carpet and Tile in the same parking lot, said he had about 20 inches of water in the store's basement Wednesday morning. He called it the second worst flooding in their 33 years in business in that location. In 2010, McIntosh said the business had 4 feet of water.
"This was really kind of a surprise," McIntosh said. "I should have been more prepared, but there was nothing in the river last night. I said 'We'd have to get a lot of rain for it to flood.' Well, we got a lot of rain."
Blanchard said fire and city emergency officials started monitoring the river — nicknamed "the frantic Yantic" for its tendency to rise and recede at a rapid rate — at 2 a.m., when heavy rains in Colchester and Lebanon caused it to rise quickly. River levels behind the Yantic fire station rose faster Wednesday morning than in the March 2010 flood — a frequent comparison used by city officials and observers Wednesday — reaching 12.53 feet.
Norwich Fire Lt. Jacob Manke, acting emergency management director, said the river had receded to 9.5 feet by 10 a.m. Wednesday, but "I just got another alert from (Federal Emergency Management Agency): 'Flood warning issued at 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.'"
Manke credited the Norwich Public Works Department and the Community Emergency Response Team for assisting with the overnight storm response, closing roads and preparing for flooding.
Firemen's Field, adjacent to the Yantic fire station, flooded Wednesday but Blanchard said the fire station remained dry and trucks did not have to be moved. Water in the station parking lot rose higher than in 2010, he said. Fire crews received a few calls Wednesday morning of flooded basements.
Norwich opened its Emergency Operations Center about 4:30 a.m. and delayed schools for two hours. In a notice posted online, officials said multiple roads were closed, largely in the Yantic section. Manke said the Shetucket River in Taftville and Occum also rose but caused only minor flooding.
City Manager John Salomone said schools were delayed because of the road closures and in case the Kelly Middle School was needed as an emergency shelter. Salomone said the river started receding at 6 a.m. By 8:30 a.m., the emergency center had closed but was on standby.
Norwich Public Utilities handled a brief power outage Wednesday afternoon, when about 350 customers lost electric service when a tree struck power lines at the entrance to West Town Street in Norwichtown.
Those in Norwich who have flooded basements can call the dispatch center at (860) 886-5561, ext. 6.
The National Weather Service compared Wednesday's Yantic River flooding at 12.7 feet to the river's crest of Sept. 21, 1938 — the river hit 14.7 feet when the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 came through — but NBC Connecticut meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan said on Twitter the flooding likely would be more comparable to that of March 2010, when more than 8 inches of rain fell in two days, prompting Norwich to declare a state of emergency and bring in the National Guard.
Day Staff Writer Lindsay Boyle contributed to this report.
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