Sandbags and warnings as northeast US braces for storm-driven flood

02 March 2018 - 09:17 By Reuters
Water covers downtown streets after the Ohio River flooded in Louisville, Kentucky, US, February 26, 2018.
Water covers downtown streets after the Ohio River flooded in Louisville, Kentucky, US, February 26, 2018.
Image: REUTERS/John Sommers II

Businesses blocked doors with sandbags and officials warned residents of waterfront homes to be ready to evacuate as the northeastern United States braced for a powerful storm on Friday that threatened to flood coasts from Maine to North Carolina.

Along Boston's Long Wharf, not far from the Fanueil Hall tourist area, large piles of sandbags were in place around a subway station and a Marriott hotel, a spot that flooded with icy seawater during an early January storm.

A combination of heavy rains, monthly extreme high tides and a wind-driven storm surge could combine to cause several feet of water to flow onto streets in coastal parts of Boston and up and down the shoreline, government and private weather forecasters warned. High winds of up to 75 miles per hour (120 kmph) could also bring extensive power outages.

"People need to take this very seriously," Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker told a Thursday press conference, telling people to prepare for a repeat of the flooding that affected much of state's east coast during the January 4 "bombogenesis" winter storm. "If you live in an area that is told to evacuate, we strongly encourage you do so first thing Friday morning."

The National Weather Service had coastal flood watches and warnings in place from southern Maine through coastal North Carolina, including New York's eastern suburbs, and also warned that a snowstorm heading east from the Ohio Valley could drop significant amounts of snow in northern New York State. It forecast storm surges of up to four feet (1.2 m) for eastern Massachusetts.

Ocean-facing homes could be destroyed by the storm surge and waves, while people who live in neighborhoods reached by low-lying roads could be cut off from services for hours or days, officials and government forecasters warned.

"This could be another storm with prolonged onshore flooding," said Paul Walker, a senior meteorologist with private forecasting services Accuweather. Flooding could begin to pick up around high tide, forecast to occur shortly after 11 a.m. ET (1600 GMT) around Boston, he said.

Walker also noted that the combinations of high winds and sustained rain, which softens the ground, could lead extensive downed trees and power outages.

Elsewhere along the coast, work crews beefed up coastal dunes and residents installed plywood sheeting over their windows to protect homes from wind- and water-borne debris.