WEST WARWICK, R.I. — Flooding on a scale rarely seen in New England forced hundreds of people from their homes Wednesday, overwhelmed sewage systems to the point that families were asked to stop flushing toilets, and washed out bridges and highways from Maine to Connecticut.
Hardest hit by three days of record-breaking rain was Rhode Island, where the worst flooding in 200 years could persist for several more days and permanently close businesses already struggling in the weak economy.
"I think we're all done," said Angelo Padula Jr., a West Warwick Town Council member whose family owns an auto-restoration shop. The shop and 260 cars stood in 10 feet of water from the Pawtuxet River.
Padula said officials told him his shop and about 40 surrounding businesses may have to be condemned, as will several blocks of nearby homes.
The rain subsided to a drizzle Wednesday, then finally stopped, and the floodwaters began to recede. But authorities across New England warned that much of the water could linger for days. The latest flooding was far worse than an inundation earlier in March in the same areas.
Stonington, Conn., a coastal town on the Rhode Island border, was largely cut off as two of its three bridges went out. A bridge also gave out in Freetown, Mass., isolating about 1,000 residents. In Coventry, R.I., a two-lane bridge threatened to collapse after its abutments washed out.
A stretch of Interstate 95, the main route linking Boston to New York, was closed in Rhode Island and could remain so at least through today. Amtrak suspended some trains in the area because of water over the tracks.
In Rhode Island, rescues continued for a third day along the Pawtuxet River, which flooded several blocks past its banks in many spots. The river crested Wednesday morning at 20.79 feet, nearly 6 feet over the previous record — set only two weeks ago — and almost 12 feet above its ordinary level of 9 feet.
The Pawtuxet is expected to return to its banks by Saturday, officials said.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano planned to travel to Rhode Island on Friday to assess damage caused by flooding, an agency official said late Wednesday.