PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The sun is out. The water level is falling. Traffic is starting to flow again.
While things appear to be looking up in Rhode Island, the state hit hardest this week by three days of rain and record flooding, health and environmental officials warn there's still danger below the surface.
Untreated sewage, garbage and oil are swirling in the muddy floodwaters, creating a threat to people as the contaminants make their way toward New England's rivers and streams. In Rhode Island, the flooding stands to introduce pollutants into Narragansett Bay, the ocean inlet whose nooks and crannies give the tiny state more than 400 miles of coastline, and disrupt the shellfishing industry.
"The impact on this infrastructure is unprecedented," said Curt Spalding of the New England region of the Environmental Protection Agency. "It's a very rare occurrence when wastewater plants are completely disabled by flood, literally taken out and become inoperable."
The flooding has forced hundreds of people from their homes and businesses. But there are bright spots: A stretch of Interstate 95 that had closed for days reopened to traffic. State offices reopened, and public colleges were set to do the same today.
Before flooding began in earnest, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management closed most of Narragansett Bay and southern coastal ponds to shellfishing. Fishing was restricted in parts of Massachusetts, as well.
People who eat contaminated seafood or expose themselves to the bacteria-contaminated water can become sick with diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems and E. coli poisoning.