With major storm cleanup barely complete, a new wave of precipitation hits northern RI

Piles of debris from flooding remain at the intersection of Iron Mine Hill Road and Greenville Road

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Last Monday, firefighters in North Smithfield responded 43 calls for help with water emergencies, while staff with the Department of Public Works traveled from location to location throughout town, clearing some 25 trees from roadways. Emergency repairs were needed to the structure housing the North Smithfield Police Department thanks to heavy rains, and mutual aid was called to an early morning fire on a property owned by Holliston Sand that took more than four hours to fully extinguish.

A professional drain-cleaning company was called in to address major flooding at the bottom of Iron Mine Hill Road, and Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski notes the problem wasn’t alleviated until Wednesday, Dec. 27.

Town officials – not surprisingly – weren’t exactly thrilled to see the latest wave of rain set to hit the region on Thursday, Dec. 28.

“We’ve had an exorbitant amount of rain – even prior to that storm,” Zwolenski said on Thursday. “Too much, too fast causes a lot of problems.”

In addition to power outages, the problems, caused by heavy winds and the roughly five inches of rain that fell on Monday, Dec. 18, included dozens of flooded basements in North Smithfield.

“We responded to 43 water emergencies,” said North Smithfield Fire & Rescue Chief David Chartier. “Basically, they’re water evacuation calls for peoples’ basements.”

Chartier noted that for local firefighters, the day began much earlier – with a fire call that came in around 1 a.m. that morning.

“It was a routine fire. It became a bit of a problem for us because we didn’t have water, and we needed manpower,” the chief said.

Chartier said firefighters left that scene around 4:30 a.m.

“My guys immediately started responding to local alarms, so they were pretty much at it all night long,” he told NRI NOW.

At one point, Chartier said that 18 homes were on a wait list for help on Monday, with the final group serviced between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. And in addition to helping with residents’ basements, N.S. fire crews responded to around 6-10 calls for trees or wires down, along with one call for a tree that had fallen on a home, the chief said.

“It was all hands on deck,” he said. “We had fire hoses in the back of our cars. Almost 24 hours, we were on the go.”

Most tree clearing, meanwhile, was handled by DPW.

“They were all over the place,” Public Works Director Ray Pendergast said of his crews.

Today, Thursday. Dec. 28, Pendergast told NRI NOW that the issue on Iron Mine Hill Road – which began when heavy waters coming out of an overflowing swamp in the area failed to drain – still hasn’t fully been resolved, causing ongoing concern for potential flooding. DPW staff, he said, is unable to access something blocking a 24-inch drain pipe that created the issue.

“There’s something in that pipe that the contractor was able to forcibly turn to give us enough pressure to get water out,” Pendergast said. “We don’t want it to get lodged back in.”

The director said that his staff plans to go into the pipe with cameras next week to see what’s lodged inside.

He noted that as a result of continued rain fall this year, the water table is an ongoing issue.

“Peoples’ yards that have never had water are overflowing and the sump pumps are going 24/7 right now,” he said.

In addition to keeping a watchful eye on areas including Iron Mine, Pendergast said his team has been checking in on one resident on Carlton Avenue, whose home is situated behind a swamp, to make sure he doesn’t get trapped.

Chartier pointed to another potential concern caused by ongoing rains: hydroplaning.

“I think the water has receded enough that we won’t have too much trouble with basements,” Chartier said. “The only thing I’m concerned about now is puddles.”

The fire chief noted that last Monday’s powerful storm picked up leaves and sticks that may still be blocking many drains, leaving water in the roadways. When Chartier spoke to NRI NOW Monday afternoon, he had just left the scene of a minor accident on Route 146.

“My guess is that’s what happened,” he said regarding the cause.

Zwolenski noted that recent storms have been, “very challenging for police, fire, everyone.” The administrator discussed concerns last night with the DPW director, and Pendergast’s crews were out yesterday, clearing out catch basins before rain started.

“We’re vigilant,” Zwolenski said. “All departments are watching. I think every community and every homeowner is concerned.”

By around 2:30 Thursday afternoon, Pendergast was hopeful that the worst had passed.

“I don’t see it getting any worse from this point forward,” he said.

Stiil, he noted that the storms have highlighted the fact that some drains in town may need upgrading.

“We have a lot of old infrastructure in town that really needs to be addressed,” he said. “I may have to discuss it in the next budget cycle.”

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