By DAVID SHARP and PATRICK WHITTLE (Associated Press)
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Days of wild weather that produced torrential rain, flooding, sinkholes and a tornado in New England could be a prelude to something more dangerous lurking offshore — Hurricane Lee.
As the Category 1 system swirled southwest of Bermuda, Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday declared a state of emergency, and the state was under its first hurricane watch in 15 years. The water-logged region prepared for 20-foot (6-meter) waves and wind gusts up to 70 mph (112 kph), along with more rain.
A dangerous storm surge was projected for Friday evening for Massachusetts’ Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Island, while the brunt of the storm was to arrive early Saturday.
Although Lee did not contribute to the recent flooding, it threatened to exacerbate conditions in a region that is already much too wet.
The Coast Guard and emergency management agencies warned New England residents to be prepared, and utility companies brought in reinforcements to deal with power outages. At Boothbay Harbor Marina in Maine, the community came together to remove boats from the water to keep them out of harm’s way.
“It’s a batten-down-the-hatches kind of day,” owner Kim Gillies said Thursday.
Similar scenes played out elsewhere, including at Kennebunkport Marina, where crews planned to take 100 boats out of the water, said Cathy Norton, marina manager.
Some people used the storm as an opportunity to put their boats into storage on land, bringing an abrupt end to the summer boating season, said John Lusty, owner of York Harbor Marine in York.
Commercial lobster fisherman Steve Train said fishermen have been sinking gear in deeper water to protect against storm damage. Fishing boats were also headed to the safety of harbors.
In Canada, where the remnants of Hurricane Fiona a year ago washed houses into the ocean, knocked out power to most of two provinces and swept a 72-year-old woman into the sea, residents of western Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick were warned about the risk of power outages and flooding this weekend.
New Brunswick Minister of Public Safety Kris Austin urged residents to assemble a 72-hour safety kit that included batteries, water, food, medication and a radio.
In her emergency declaration, the Maine governor urged people to take the storm seriously and to make preparations. Mills, a Democrat, also asked President Joe Biden to issue a preemptive presidential disaster declaration to give the state access to federal resources.
Earlier in the week, the region saw 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain over six hours. Tornado warnings were posted Wednesday for communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and more heavy rain opened up sinkholes and brought devastating flooding to several areas.
The National Weather Service in Boston confirmed Thursday that damage to trees and power lines in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut the day before was consistent with a tornado. In Lincoln, Rhode Island, photos taken after the storm showed that at least one roof was damaged, and the press box at the high school stadium tipped into the bleachers.
At midafternoon Thursday, Lee was spinning 230 miles (370 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was traveling north on a path that could lead to landfall in Nova Scotia, possibly as a tropical storm, forecasters said.
The system threatened to bring a mixed bag of threats. Ocean waves as tall as 20 feet could lash the coast, damaging structures and causing erosion; powerful wind gusts could knock down trees weakened by a wet summer; and rain could cause flash flooding in a region where the soil is already saturated, said Louise Fode, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Maine.
The state’s eastern coast — known as the Down East region — and the coast of Nova Scotia was expected to bear the brunt of the storm, though the track could shift before the system arrives, Fode said.
One thing working in the region’s favor: The storm surge will not be accompanied by an astronomical high tide, helping to lower the risk, she said.
New England has experienced its share of flooding this summer, including a storm that dumped up to two months of rain in two days in Vermont in July, resulting in two deaths. Scientists are finding that storms around the world are forming in a warmer atmosphere, making extreme rainfall more frequent.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey issued a state of emergency late Tuesday following “catastrophic flash flooding and property damage” in two counties and other communities. The torrential downpour in a six-hour period was a “200-year event,” said Matthew Belk, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boston.
The state is monitoring the conditions of dams, the governor said, and she urged residents to stay off the roads when ordered.
The rain created several sinkholes in Leominster, Massachusetts, including one at a car dealership where several vehicles were swallowed up. In Providence, Rhode Island, downpours flooded a parking lot and parts of a shopping mall. Firefighters used inflatable boats to rescue more than two dozen people stranded in cars.
Looking ahead, the hurricane watch for Maine extended from Stonington to the Canadian border. The last time a hurricane watch was declared in Maine was in 2008, for Hurricane Kyle.
Meanwhile, a tropical storm watch was in effect from Stonington south to Watch Hill, Rhode Island. That includes Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
In Maine, residents often boast about being accustomed to rough weather. Lee’s projected wind, rain and surf are akin to a powerful Nor’easter, and people are familiar with those.
The Portland Sea Dogs, a minor league baseball team, moved its fan appreciation day to Friday because of the weather forecast. But the club had no plans to cancel its game on Saturday despite the storm.
Associated Press journalists Rob Gillies in Toronto and Robert F. Bukaty in York, Maine, contributed to this report.
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