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Norwich returns to normal after Thursday deluge

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published July 26. 2013 7:00AM   Updated July 26. 2013 9:17PM

Norwich — Life quickly returned to normal Friday after more than 5 inches of rain flooded streets Thursday, stranding motorists and causing emergency evacuations of homes and businesses.

The lingering effects of the surprise storm were still being felt by owners of vehicles inundated by floodwater along West Town Street, lower Plain Hill Road and Huntington Avenue.

There were no injuries and no structural damage caused by the flooding, city officials said. All roads had reopened by late Thursday night, and power had been restored by 7:30 p.m. to the 10 buildings that had been shut off because of flooding concerns, Norwich Public Utilities Assistant General Manager Chris LaRose said.

Norwich Emergency Management Director Gene Arters said no one stayed overnight at the emergency shelter at Kelly Middle School. About 30 homes were evacuated during the storm, but residents apparently found other accommodations or returned to their homes late Thursday as the storm subsided.

Yantic Volunteer Fire Chief Frank Blanchard said four people had to be rescued from vehicles in the flash flood Thursday afternoon on West Town Street at the bottom of Plain Hill Road.

Victims told emergency crews that the water rose so fast they were trapped at red lights or stop signs, with vehicles in front and behind them. Within seconds, the water topped car tires and soon reached hoods.

Tow trucks attempted to pull some vehicles from the area, but Harry Austin, owner of Austin's Garage in Occum, said the trucks couldn't reach some of the vehicles.

A portion of the commuter lot on West Town Street at Interstate 395's Exit 82 was flooded, and cars in nearby gas stations also were inundated with water.

Austin said water can quickly cause major damage to a vehicle. If a vehicle drives into a flooded area, water gets sucked into engine air intake areas and cuts power to the engine.

"The worst concern would be damage to the electrical system and computers," Austin said.

Vehicles flooded to the window level or higher likely will be classified as "totaled" by insurance companies, he said. Most likely, the vehicles would not start even after drying out, he said.

"If you can start it and drive away, you'd be very lucky," Austin said.

He said some cars remained in the West Town Street area Friday, awaiting evaluation by insurance company representatives.

Arters echoed comments made by city officials and long-time emergency response personnel in the city, saying the both the storm's intensity and duration surprised everyone.

"The storm was parked right over Norwich, and it wasn't going to move," Arters said. "In my 38 years of doing this, I've never seen anything like this. Even the weather service was flabbergasted."

c.bessette@theday.com

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