By Sunday afternoon, Henri had winds of about 80 miles per hour as he moved inland through Connecticut, according to the National Hurricane Center. When it hit land near Westerly, R.I., it had winds of about 60 mph and gusts of up to 70 mph.
Several major bridges in Rhode Island, which connect much of the state, were temporarily closed on Sunday, and some coastal roads were almost impassable.
West-based Collette Chisholm, a 20-year-old resident, said the waves were much higher than normal but said she was not worried about her home suffering major damage.
“I love storms,” she said. “I find it exciting as long as no one is injured.”
In Newport, Paul and Cherie Saunders weathered the storm in a house their family has owned since the late 1950s. Her basement was flooded with 1.5 m of water during super storm Sandy nine years ago.
“This house has seen so many hurricanes and so many things,” said Cherie Saunders, 68. “We’ll just wait and see what happens.”
Rhode Island has been hit by regular hurricanes and tropical storms – including Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Irene in 2011, and Hurricane Bob in 1991. The city of Providence suffered so much flood damage from a hurricane in 1938 and Hurricane Carol in 1954, that they created a hurricane barrier in the 1960s to protect downtown from a storm surge that drifts up Narragansett Bay. This barrier – and newer gates that have been built nearby – were closed on Sunday.
Some communities in central New Jersey were inundated with up to eight inches of rain by noon on Sunday. In Jamesburg, television videos showed flooded downtown streets and cars almost completely submerged.
In Newark, Brian O’Hara, director of public safety, said police and fire departments rescued 86 people in 11 storm-related incidents. He said “significant flooding” resulted in several vehicles submerged in flooded areas.
In a region where the soil in many areas has become saturated from recent rains, some feared that the worst effects of the rains were yet to come.
Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric science program at the University of Georgia and past president of the American Meteorological Society, said Henri was somewhat reminiscent of Hurricane Harvey, a slow storm that decimated the Houston area in 2017 and worsened as bands of rain east of the city, a phenomenon that meteorologists call “training”.
“You see a little bit of that workout in the New Jersey / New York area, even if the storm itself is a little to the east and northeast,” Shepherd said. “There’s a banding on the west side of the storm that has literally been stationary – sitting there and draining rain. This will pose a significant threat to the New York and New Jersey area. “
Some in New England warned against complacency, warning that if Henri comes to a standstill and lets off several inches of rainfall – it has the potential to cause damage similar to Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.
After Irene roared up the coast, many in the Northeast were relieved to find that the New York City area was largely spared. But then the storm settled over the Green Mountains, and Irene became the greatest natural disaster to hit Vermont since an epic flood in 1927. Parts of the state got 11 inches of rain in just 24 hours. Irene killed six in Vermont, left thousands homeless, and damaged or destroyed more than 200 bridges and 500 miles of freeway.
“I remember Irene and the media outside of Vermont brushing it aside like it wasn’t a big deal while it hit Vermont,” tweeted Robert Welch, a podcaster on Sunday. “I’ll relax when I see it on the radar at sea.”
As of Sunday afternoon, over 78,000 customers in Rhode Island, 32,000 in Connecticut, 9,000 in Massachusetts and 4,000 in New York were affected by power outages.
In Connecticut, four coastal nursing homes have been evacuated, according to Connecticut’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds. About 250 residents have been moved to other nursing homes, he said. Storm-induced flooding has been blamed for major delays along Interstate 91 near Hartford.
In one of his final appearances as governor before stepping down on a sexual harassment scandal late Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state’s main concern was the decreasing threat to inland areas such as the Hudson River Valley to the north of New York City, where centimeter-wide rains were expected in the next few days.
Precipitation in the Catskills “is a significant problem,” said Cuomo. “In the Hudson Valley there are hills, creeks, the water runs down these hills and turns a stream into a raging river. I’ve seen small towns in these mountainous areas that have been ravaged by the rain. It’s still a very real possibility. “
President Joe Biden declared disasters across much of the region and opened purses to federal reconstruction aid. The White House said Biden had discussed the preparations with the governors of the Northeast and that New York City Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will succeed Cuomo on Tuesday, also took part.
Elsewhere in the country, Tennessee has been hit by deadly weather.
At least 22 people were killed and rescue workers desperately searched between shattered homes and tangled rubble on Sunday for dozens of people who were still missing after record-breaking rain hit floodwaters through Middle Tennessee.
Saturday’s flooding in rural areas destroyed roads, cell towers and phone lines, leaving families unsure whether their loved ones survived the unprecedented flood. Rescue workers searched door-to-door, said Kristi Brown, a health and safety coordinator at Humphreys County Schools.
Many of the missing live in the neighborhoods where the water rose the fastest, said Chris Davis, Humphreys County sheriff. Their names were listed on a board in the county emergency center and on a city council’s Facebook page.
The dead included twins, who were loudly ripped from their father’s arms by surviving family members, and a foreman at music star Loretta Lynn’s ranch.
Up to 17 inches of rain fell in Humphreys County in less than 24 hours on Saturday, which appeared to break the Tennessee record for one-day rainfall by more than three inches, the National Weather Service said.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee toured the area and stopped on Main Street in Waverly, where some houses were washed from their foundations and people ransacked their water-saturated possessions. All over the county there was rubble from wrecked cars, demolished shops and houses, and a chaotic, tangled mix of things inside.
Shirley Foster wept when the governor came up to him. She said she just learned that a friend from her church is dead.
“I thought I was over the shock of all of this. I’m torn right now about my boyfriend. My house is nothing, but my friend is gone, ”Foster told the governor.