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Powerful storm blamed for 5 deaths as it raced from Southeast to New England

Hundreds of thousands were without power, flood alerts were issued from Virginia to Maine, and airports reported delays and cancellations as travelers prepare to head to holiday destinations.
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A powerful storm raced up the East Coast on Monday, causing at least five deaths, putting millions of people under flood alerts, cutting power to nearly 750,000 utility customers, and thwarting pre-holiday flights. 

A 40-year-old man was killed after he was struck by part of a tree in Windham, Maine, as he was clearing a branch from his roof, Windham Police Chief Kevin Schofield said in a statement. He said the man, Troy Olsen, was pronounced dead at the scene.

An 89-year-old man in Hanover, Massachusetts, was killed when a tree struck the travel trailer he was in Monday morning, Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz said in a statement.

The victim was hospitalized with severe head trauma and later died, Cruz said. He was identified as Robert Horky of Hingham.

Heavy rain and flooding are believed to have led to the death of a 73-year-old man who "became submerged in high water on the roadway" in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the coroner's office said.

The man, Allen "Ray" Nolt, of Ephrata, was traveling on Cabin Drive in West Earl Township Monday morning when his vehicle became stuck. He was pronounced dead at a hospital, the coroner's office said.

Two other deaths were confirmed: a man in Fairfield, Maine, who was killed while cleaning up during the storm, and 76-year-old MaryAnn Hyland in Greene County, New York, who died after her vehicle was swept away by floodwaters.

Two people in Mexico, Maine, are missing after a vehicle with four occupants tried to cross the Red Bridge into Rumford Monday evening, state police said. The driver tried to turn around "when the vehicle got swept into rising flood waters," according to police.

Three people were able to get out, and two of them were rescued. The third person along with the fourth occupant who was still inside the vehicle are missing, Maine State Police said.

In Cohasset, Massachusetts, a mother and her infant survived with minor injuries after a branch hit the vehicle they were in on Monday morning, Cohasset police said in a statement.

A slight risk of excessive rainfall over parts of New England remained through Tuesday, even as the storm exited the United States en route to Canada and the North Atlantic, National Weather Service forecasters said.

“The associated heavy rain will create mainly localized areas of flash flooding, with urban areas, roads and small streams the most vulnerable,” the weather service said. 

Powerful storm dumps heavy rain over East Coast.
Wind and rain in Boston, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York City and Pennsylvania.AP; NurPhoto; Providence Journal; NY Daily News; Providence Journal

The same storm system battered Florida and the Carolinas with strong winds and torrential rain over the weekend. Charleston set a daily record Sunday with 3.86 inches of rainfall, and Gainesville, Florida, reported more than 7 inches. South Carolina also set a record for greatest storm surge from a nontropical system with a high tide at almost 10 feet. 

The low-pressure system raced from Florida to Maine in 36 hours, fueled by subtropical humidity from the Atlantic that clashed with cooler air moving in behind it, forecasters said.

The system produced the lowest ever air pressure readings on record for the month of December off the Southeastern coast, including Florida, and was extraordinarily warm, largely because the Atlantic's sea surface temperatures have been above normal, said Brian Horley, senior meteorologist with the weather service's Weather Prediction Center.

Low pressure helps draw warm humid air that the counterclockwise system turns into rain, and Horley said the record readings correlated to serious flooding in places like coastal South Carolina, where more than 1 foot of rain was recorded.

"It was a super-warm system for the month of December," he said.

The East Coast, from Virginia to Maine, was targeted by similar fury Monday.

In Paterson, New Jersey, Mayor André Sayegh had declared a state of emergency amid street flooding and the possibility the Passaic River could overflow. Paterson Public Schools canceled classes Tuesday because of the emergency and area flooding.

Over a 24-hour span, the lower Hudson Valley and parts of northeast New Jersey recorded nearly 6 inches of rain, according to the weather service in New York.

In New York City, a travel advisory was in effect because of flooding conditions on roads, power outages and high winds on bridges. The city’s emergency management office had also warned of “imminent” flash flooding in Manhattan and the Bronx and warned locals to avoid basements and low-lying areas. 

At one point in the day, more than 10,000 people in New York City were without power because of the storm, and there were 388 reports of downed trees across the city, the city's Emergency Management Office said. 

Con Edison crews restored power to a vast majority of those customers by late afternoon, with fewer than 2,000 homes and businesses in the dark by 5 p.m.

In Connecticut, the Danbury Emergency Management Office had urged people to avoid flooded roads in the city, where there were reports of water rescues and vehicles stuck in water. Part of Boston's Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s tower building exterior also sustained damage. There were no injuries in the damage. 

In Jamaica, Vermont, three people were rescued from a flooded home, said Vermont Emergency Management spokesperson Mark Bosma.

Flooding also struck parts of New Hampshire on Monday morning, with Jed Henry, chief of the fire department in Jackson, saying it was worse than a hurricane.

The electricity company Central Maine Power shared dramatic photos of the storm damage across Maine, showing downed structures and toppled trees blocking roads. 

In parts of New Jersey, flooded streams and creeks had turned streets into rivers.

Water rescues were conducted in flooded parts of Hillsdale, New Jersey, Monday morning. The Hillsdale Fire Department shared a photo showing the rescue of a baby after a family’s home was impacted by floods.

Capt. Sean Smith said Glendale Drive was a “flood zone."

"It hasn’t flooded this bad in a while," he said.

Firefighter and Police Sgt. Matthew Buesser rescues a baby after the family’s home was hit by floods Monday.
Firefighter and Police Sgt. Matthew Buesser rescues a baby after the family’s home was hit by floods Monday.Courtesy Captain Sean Smith of the Hillsdale, NJ Fire Department.

The village of Moretown, Vermont, was also evacuated because of “significant” flooding, Fire Warden Stefan Pratt said, estimating 30 to 50 houses were in the evacuation zone. 

On Monday, nearly 4,000 flights were delayed nationwide and more than 500 were canceled, according to FlightAware data. By early Tuesday afternoon, there were 1,560 delays nationwide and 46 cancellations, according to the site.

It comes after a weekend that saw a dizzying number of delays — more than 10,000 — and almost 200 cancellations.

The threat of heavy rain will end Tuesday as the system moved further into Canada Monday evening. 

Lake-effect snow downwind of the Great Lakes and upslope snow over parts of the northern and the central Appalachians are also in the forecast Monday through Wednesday, the weather service said.

Meanwhile, a storm is moving onshore over the West Coast on Monday that will also produce significant rainfall, as well as snow in the Sierra Nevada over the next few days.