Tropical Storm Henri hit the coast of Rhode Island on Sunday afternoon, packing high winds that knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and bands of rain that led to flash flooding from New Jersey to Massachusetts.
The storm was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, but still packed wind gusts of up to 70mph. There were few early reports of major damage due to wind or surf, but officials warned of the danger of spot flooding in inland areas over the next few days.
Millions on New York’s Long Island and in southern New England braced for the possibility of flooding, toppled trees and extended power outages. Residents up and down the coast hoped to be spared the storm’s wrath but prepared for the worst.
Driving surf and sheets of rain scoured the beach towns of southern Rhode Island as the storm approached, leaving some coastal roads nearly impassable. Some small trees had already fallen to the winds and rain, which had swollen local inlets and creeks.
Westerly resident Collette Chisholm, a 20-year resident, said the waves were much higher than normal, but said she wasn’t concerned about her home suffering extensive damage.
“I love storms,” she said. “I think they’re exciting, as long as no one gets hurt.”
In Newport, Paul and Cherie Saunders were riding out the storm in a home that her family has owned since the late 1950s. Their basement flooded with 5 feet of water during Superstorm Sandy nine years ago.
“This house has been through so many hurricanes and so many things have happened,” said Cherie Saunders, 68. “We’re just going to wait and see what happens.”
Farther south in Branford, Connecticut, 61-year-old geologist Paul Muniz was busy securing his boat in anticipation of the storm. Muniz lives close to the marina and has survived previous storms, and spent $50,000 to elevate his home 9 feet off the ground.
“I’ve lived here for 32 years, had an opportunity to move a number of times, but you know, it’s a very special place,” Muniz said.
While the wind was significant in certain areas, experts warned that the storm’s biggest threat likely will come from storm surge and inland flooding, caused by what are expected to be heavy and sustained rains. Some of the highest rain totals were expected inland.
In preparation for the storm, officials in Providence, Rhode Island, and New Bedford, Massachusetts, closed giant hurricane barriers that were built in the 1960s, after devastating storms in 1938 and 1954.
Massachusetts’ Steamship Authority cancelled all Sunday ferry service between the mainland and the popular vacation islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket after the US Coast Guard shut down ports on Cape Cod and New Bedford. Tourists waiting in their cars, hoping for a last-minute ferry off the islands, were stranded until the worst of Henri passes.
President Joe Biden declared disasters in much of the region, opening the purse strings for federal recovery aid. The White House said Biden discussed preparations with northeastern governors and that New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who succeeds Cuomo on Tuesday, also participated.
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