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State Braces for More Flooding

By Andrew Ryan, Associated Press Writer

The sewer backups, soggy basements and flooded streets that have forced hundreds from their homes in northeastern Massachusetts may be just the beginning.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spokesman Peter Judge. "It's going to get worse."

The National Weather Service predicted that rain totals may hit 15 inches in places by Monday afternoon, triggering the worst flooding some areas have seen since 1936.

As the waters of the Merrimack continued to rise Monday, officials in Lowell were bracing for the worse.

At 5 a.m., the National Weather Service reported the river was at 57.6 feet, more than 5 feet above flood stage. Forecasters said the river could exceed 60 feet by 8 p.m. Monday.

While no mandatory evacuations had been reported, emergency shelters had been set up in the Lowell High School gymnasium and at the Lowell Senior Center on Broadway. Police said Monday that several roads along the river were impassable and there was the potential that the city might have to temporarily close its main water plant because of flooding.

The Merrimack Valley cities of Lawrence, Haverhill and Methuen were also affected. Methuen Mayor William M. Manzi said the flooding of the smaller Spicket River had closed a section of Route 28, the city's main thoroughfare, and there was a report of a partial bridge collapse.

Numerous other roads, including portions of heavily traveled Route 1 north of Boston, were closed Monday because of flooding, slowing the morning commute. At least three dozen school systems in the region cancelled classes for the day.

On Sunday, about 300 people were evacuated from a senior citizens' apartment complex in downtown Peabody, about 20 miles north of Boston.

Charley Ranen was one of several dozen seniors who took shelter at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, bracing for a long night. If the rain keeps up, Ranen said, he wasn't sure how long some of his sickly neighbors could sleep on cots.

"That's going to be tough on a lot of people," said Ranen, shaking his head. "It's just a mess, I don't know what else to say. There were waves of water."

Gov. Mitt Romney toured portions of hard-hit Peabody on Sunday night and visited with residents staying at an emergency shelter at the city's high school. Earlier in the day, Romney declared a state of emergency, activating the National Guard and other state services to help local officials respond to the torrential rain that hasn't let up since Friday.

"I have no heat, I have no hot water, and my cellar is flooded up to its tippy top," said Esther Gibely as she paced back and forth at Peabody High.

All 10 houses on Gibely's street flooded, something she's seen just once — during the Blizzard of '78 — in her 46 years on the block.

Businesses stacked sandbags at their doors, trying to prevent damage from water that rose waist-deep. Court officials planned to close Peabody District Court on Monday to keep people away from the city's square.

About 10 northeast Massachusetts communities opened temporary shelters, Romney said.

In Melrose, about 150 residents had to leave their homes after sewage lines backed up into houses, Romney said.

Officials in the fishing community of Gloucester on the North Shore also evacuated about 70 residents from Poplar Park senior home.

The Coast Guard helped Gloucester firefighters fill 1,000 sandbags to help control flooding at the Fuller Elementary School, which was being used as a shelter.

Sandbags were stacked at the Upper Flint Pond Dam in Tyngsborough, and at the Upper Mystic Lake Dam in Arlington, said Judge, the emergency management spokesman.

"We're not aware of any integrity issues with them," he said. "They're basically raising the height of the dams."

National Guard soldiers filled and stacked bags at the Arlington dam, he said.

No deaths or injuries had been reported by late Sunday in Massachusetts, state officials said.

Judge warned curious residents not to stray too close to raging waters, likening it to "going down to the seawall to see the hurricane."

"Hopefully, people can watch it on television." he said.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

This program aired on May 15, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.

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