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Thunderstorms pound Connecticut, delivering heavy rain and flash floods

The Pequabuck River hours after flooding receded at the intersection of Routes 72 and 229 in Bristol on July 16, 2023. The water rushed up over the bridge causing damage to the road. Repairs were being made at the time this photo was taken, and the road is expected to be passable by Sunday night.
Jeni Ahrens
Connecticut Public
The Pequabuck River hours after flooding receded at the intersection of Routes 72 and 229 in Bristol on July 16, 2023. The water rushed up over the bridge causing damage to the road. Repairs were being made at the time this photo was taken, and the road is expected to be passable by Sunday night.

Heavy rain fell across Connecticut Sunday, flooding streets and basements and causing road closures in various cities around the state.

The thunderstorms delivered several inches of rain in a short amount of time, as well as strong winds. Flooding was expected as the ground was saturated following rain over the past week.

In Danbury and Waterbury, officials monitored street flooding. In Bristol, emergency personnel rescued people from stranded vehicles, while crews worked to repair road damage from the downpours.

The rain forced the cancellation of Sunday's events at the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz. Officials said the safety of participants and attendees was their top priority.

At Tweed-New Haven Airport, the terminal was shut down due to the rain. Several Avelo Airlines flights were cancelled or delayed.

Elsewhere, the storms uprooted trees and brought down power lines. Power outages were reported across the state. About 2,500 Eversource customers were without power Sunday afternoon.

Parts of Fairfield and New Haven counties got more than 4 inches of rain, while some cities in Hartford and Tolland counties reported 3 inches.

In Hartford County, streets in Bristol flooded Sunday morning, requiring the Fire Department to rescue six people from vehicles.

The rescues happened because people tried to drive through flooded streets, Deputy Fire Chief David Simard said.

"Frederick Street, we pulled somebody out, the water was still coming up, it was up to the door handle on the car," he said. "So we just had to pull them right out of the window."

The Pequabuck River flooded a section of Bristol's busiest street, resulting in damage. Crews began repairing once the floodwaters receded Sunday afternoon.

Gov. Ned Lamont visited Bristol Sunday, and praised the work of transportation crews in getting Bristol's busiest road cleaned up and fixed so quickly.

But he said there needs to be long-term solutions to dealing with more frequent and torrential rains.

"Using some of the federal money we got, working with the Department of Transportation and DEEP [Department of Energy and Environmental Protection], we're looking at resilience all around the state," Lamont said. "What are the places that are most vulnerable? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?"

Storms pounded the Northeast throughout the weekend. North of Philadelphia, at least five people were killed during a flash flood, while a 9-month-old boy and a 2-year-old girl were among those missing. The storms caused flight cancellations in the New York City area. And, in Massachusetts, a tornado was spotted about 20 miles west of Worcester, although officials say there were no injuries or damage to homes.

Various flood watches and flash flood warnings were in effect across Connecticut late Sunday morning and early Sunday afternoon. A tornado watch was in effect at one point for the state.

"The flood potential is high; the rain is going to be heavy," Garett Argianas, Connecticut Public's meteorologist, said about Sunday's storms. "Some areas could pick up over a month's worth of rain" on Sunday.

Officials warn people not to walk or drive on flooded roads – and if motorists approach roads covered with water, they should turn around.

"It doesn't take much water to take you or a vehicle away," Argianas said.

More than 4 inches of rain were reported in Danbury in Fairfield County, while Waterbury in New Haven County recorded 4.53 inches. About 4 inches were reported in Plainfield in Windham County. In Tolland County, Vernon reported about 3 inches. Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks reported about 1.5 inches.

In northwestern Connecticut, in Litchfield County, between 1 and 2 inches of rain had fallen early Sunday morning, and forecasters were expecting an additional 1 to 2 inches, the weather service said.

At Tweed, officials said the airport "acts as a collection bowl for neighborhood flood waters" and that they were waiting for high tide to recede in order to "open tide gates to drain water through waterways."

Flood warnings remained in effect for areas along the Connecticut River, specifically in Haddam and Hartford. Parts of the river have been flooded from heavy rain that fell in Vermont last week – water that made its way down the river, the longest in New England.

Other flood warnings were in effect until early Monday morning for the Farmington River in Unionville and until Monday afternoon for parts of the Housatonic River. Flooding was also a concern along the Quinebaug River in eastern Connecticut.

Sunday's storms were also hitting New England and parts of New York state.

In Massachusetts, the National Weather Service said an EF-0 tornado, with an estimated peak wind of 80 mph, hit North Brookfield, west of Worcester. Damage was limited to trees.

More wet weather is expected in Connecticut on Tuesday and again later in the week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Eric Aasen is executive editor at Connecticut Public, the statewide NPR and PBS service. He leads the newsroom, including editors, reporters, producers and newscasters, and oversees all local news, including radio, digital and television platforms. Eric joined Connecticut Public in 2022 from KERA, the NPR/PBS member station in Dallas-Fort Worth, where he served as managing editor and digital news editor. He's directed coverage of several breaking news events and edited and shaped a variety of award-winning broadcast and digital stories. In 2023, Connecticut Public earned a national Edward R. Murrow Award for coverage that explored 10 years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, as well as five regional Murrow Awards, including Overall Excellence. In 2015, Eric was part of a KERA team that won a national Online Journalism Award. In 2017, KERA earned a station-record eight regional Murrow Awards, including Overall Excellence. Eric joined KERA after more than a decade as a reporter at The Dallas Morning News. A Minnesota native, Eric has wanted to be a journalist since he was in the third grade. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from DePauw University in Indiana, where he earned a political science degree. He and his wife, a Connecticut native, have a daughter and a son, as well as a dog and three cats.
Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.

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