Record floods swamp R.I.

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 councilman whose family owns a 100-year-old auto-restoration shop. The shop and 260 cars stood in 10 feet of water from the Pawtuxet River.

Padula said officials told him they think his shop and about 40 surrounding businesses would have to be condemned, as will several blocks of nearby homes.

"We were wiped right out," said Padula, whose 86-year-old father was hospitalized after having a heart attack during Tuesday night's flooding. "You're talking millions and millions of dollars in these businesses. Now I know how the people in New Orleans felt" after Hurricane Katrina.

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 this month in the same areas.

Stonington, Conn., a coastal town bordering Rhode Island, 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 I-95, the main route linking Boston to New York, was closed in Rhode Island and could remain so at least through today.

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.