Jeffrey Saba knew there was a garage full of leaf blowers and lawn mowers somewhere in the murky water below. And like thousands of New England residents whose homes and businesses were flooded by record rainfall, he knew he had to wait to reach them.
“We are up against a battle now,” said Saba, 42, a landscaper who used a 20-foot canoe Tuesday to inspect his swamped home near the Merrimack River. “The next couple of days will be just a waiting game.”
Rivers crested and rains eased Tuesday as New Englanders began to assess the damage caused by the region’s worst flooding since the 1930s. Police reported a single fatality, a 59-year-old man whose body was found in a partially submerged car north of Boston.
State officials prepared to apply for federal help after a week of rain drove at least 2,500 people from their homes, flooded businesses, closed schools and washed out hundreds of roads in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.
Gov. Mitt Romney said damage would exceed “tens of millions” in Massachusetts alone. He said he was waiting for a precise calculation of damage before applying for federal assistance.
In New Hampshire, some towns still faced the danger of flooding and were closely watching dams. Crews breached one dam along the Newfound River in Bristol on Tuesday night to relieve pressure and avoid flooding downtown. Another dam upstream had loose bolts, prompting authorities to evacuate 200 to 400 families and businesses.
Along the coast, 1,300 people were evacuated from Newmarket, N.H., as the fire chief nervously watched the raging Lamprey River put stress on the Old Newmarket Dam.
In Maine, roads reopened and the threat eased to two dams on the Salmon Falls River.
Ready for Memorial Day
Chambers of commerce along the York County coast, one of the epicenters of Maine’s summer tourism industry, expressed confidence that hotels, restaurants and other attractions would be ready for Memorial Day weekend.
Forecasters predicted scattered showers would persist across the region through the weekend, but the rains should be lighter, with most areas seeing more sun than clouds.
“There’s pleasant weather on tap,” said Charlie Foley, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
There were no immediate plans to reopen U.S. Route 1 north of Boston from Revere to Lynnfield, said Jon Carlisle, a spokesman for the state highway department. Dozens of crews worked pumps to clear the six-lane road.
“A whole host of agencies are working aggressively to get the highway back open as soon as possible,” he said.
The heavily traveled highway, lined with stores and restaurants, most of which have closed, has caused commuter headaches as drivers seek alternate routes in and out of Boston.
In Topsfield, police identified the dead man as James M. Elderkin of Derry, N.H. His car was found in 3 feet of water on a flooded road that had been closed for several days. An autopsy was planned for Wednesday.
In Haverhill, Mass., officials tried to repair a sewage pipe that was dumping 35 million gallons of waste a day into the Merrimack River. State environmental officials said there was no immediate threat to public health from the break, and a temporary fix should be complete Friday.