‘Mother Nature is a powerful thing’: Leominster continues to clean up devastating flood damage

LEOMINSTER, Mass. — A state of emergency remains in effect in Leominster Tuesday night after a devastating round of flash flooding caused extensive damage in the city on Monday, leaving motorists stranded, forcing the cancellation of school, and prompting evacuations in some areas.

“It has been catastrophic,” Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella said during a Tuesday morning news conference. “We had to evacuate people throughout the night with hovercrafts and boats.”

Mazzarella estimated that the flooding had caused millions of dollars in damage, adding that an unprecedented 11 inches of rain fell in the city in just a matter of five hours.

“This is not just a typical storm. It’s going to take quite a long time before we get things back to normal,” Mazzarella said. “The storm stopped over us for five hours and it didn’t move...There was a lot of water...I don’t know how much more rain we can handle.”

When asked if there were any injuries in the flooding, Mazzarella said, “It’s a miracle we didn’t have any fatalities.”

There was initial concern that two of the town’s dams were at risk for bursting but Mazzarella told Boston 25‘s Mark Ockerbloom Tuesday evening that they had been shored up.

“We have a plan for everything now. We were really nervous about those dams. Today everyone got together and put a plan together and contractors came in and started working on it right away,” said the mayor. “It’s been like this since the beginning. With teamwork. We’re gonna bypass all the utilities and reconstruct them and then go back to the permanent one. That’s gonna take some time.”

Mazzarella told Boston 25 News that some residents had two or three feet of water in their basements.

“A lot of time people have insurance and then they don’t. It’s heartbreaking. Lots of people lost a lot of things in their basements. Things that they had saved for years. Never had water in their basements,” said Mazzarella.

On Pleasant Street, a gigantic sinkhole opened up in the roadway. Video from the scene also showed the foundation of a nearby home totally washed away.

Major road washout also occurred on Lancaster Street, where drone video captured by Henry Swenson showed piles of buckled pavement, as well as mounds of displaced gravel and dirt.

On Mechanic Street, a newly built sidewalk buckled and collapsed into the Monoosnoc Brook.

Firefighters used boats and a military truck to evacuate dozens of residents and pets as floodwaters rose in the Meadowbrook Acres neighborhood. Many others were ordered to evacuate their homes.

Mazzarella said hundreds upon hundreds of cars were also towed away as crews worked throughout the night to assess the city’s crumbling infrastructure.

Mazzarella urged residents to stay off the roads and Superintendent Paula Deacon called off classes on Tuesday as raging floodwaters left motorists stranded along Route 2 and forced many residents from their homes.

“Just trust me when I tell you, if you do not have to go out, don’t,” Mazzarella said. “These catch basins are coming right out of the ground, you’re going to drive over one of them. All the streets are flooded.”

Deacon added, “Due to the extensive flooding from today’s storm, the Leominster Public Schools will be closed on Tuesday. Stay safe.”

Later on Tuesday afternoon, Mazzarella announced that schools would again be closed on Wednesday to allow cleanup efforts to continue without hindrance.

A flash flood warning remains in effect in the Leominster-Fitchburg area through early Thursday.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency urged residents in the area of Barrett Park Pond Dam to evacuate and safely leave the area.

“Due to a potential issue at the Barrett Park Pond Dam, persons in low-lying areas of the Fall Brook tributary to Fall Brook along Central Street, Fall Brook, and the North Nashua River, should evacuate and safely leave the area,” MEMA said in an alert.

A shelter has been set up at the Skyview Middle School for residents who decide to heed the warning. Frances Drake Elementary was also used as a shelter, but it was no longer active as of Tuesday afternoon.

The flooding also caused a bridge collapse in the area of 183 Exchange Street, leaving the area impassable to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

A video shared with Boston 25 News showed a river of water rushing below the caved-in bridge as motorists were left stranded on the other end of the road.

Mazzarella said thousands of motorists typically pass over the bridge on a daily basis.

Abandoned cars were also spotted in the parking lot at The Mall at Whitney Field on Commercial Road in the area of Route 2.

Several nursing homes in the city also lost power, as well as Leominster Hospital, Mazzarella said.

Part of the walls at Tilton Cook Marketplace was also starting to collapse due to the flooding, according to Mazzarella. He also said multiple vehicles were destroyed at a Mercedes dealership.

The east and westbound sides of Route 2 in Leominster remained closed overnight, but MassDOT announced that the highway had fully reopened just before 6:30 a.m.

As of Tuesday morning, city officials said that about 100 evacuated residents were waking up in shelters.

Motorists were also asked to use caution in navigating the area because 14 roads in the city remained closed.

The MBTA’s Fitchburg commuter rail line is closed from Wachusett to Shirley.

In a statement, Massachusetts Mayor Maura Healey said she had “instructed state agencies to do all that they can do to assist” Mazzarella’s local crews in the days ahead.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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