PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee and Rhode Island’s congressional delegation are asking the federal government for help after heavy flooding rendered roadways across the state impassable Monday afternoon.
Torrential downpours flooded major highways, main roads and side streets across Providence, making it difficult to navigate the capital city and leaving drivers stranded for hours.
I-95 was completely underwater in both directions near Exit 18 (Thurbers Avenue), bringing traffic to a standstill and forcing the drivers closest to the floodwaters to abandon their vehicles for higher ground.
Route 10 near Union Avenue was also inundated with rainwater, which took Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) workers hours to clear.
Cranston has received the most rain so far, recording more than 11 inches within the past 24 hours, while Providence has seen more than 8 inches.
The Cranston Police Department said officers responded to roughly 40 submerged vehicles in total and helped many of those drivers escape their waterlogged cars.
When asked what caused the flooding, RIDOT Director Peter Alviti blamed it on the intensity and amount of rainfall.
“It was simply a case of intense rainfall that we received in such a short period of time and it exceeded the capacity of the drainage system,” he said.
RIDOT workers were seen clearing storm drains on the highways in an attempt to get the water to recede faster, though Alviti said it wasn’t clogged storm drains that caused the flooding.
Alviti said when it comes to preventing flooding like this in the future, there’s little the state can do to prepare.
“We prepare as best we can,” he said. “We make sure we have crews on standby and on alert as we did with this one, we maintain drainage systems to be open and cleared as quickly as possible. But other than that, we’re pretty much at the mercy of mother nature.”
In response to the flooding, Sen. Jack Reed wrote a letter to President Joe Biden asking him for federal assistance on behalf of the state.
“While we don’t know the extent of the damage, we want the federal government to be ready to support any request from the state to help families, businesses and communities recover,” Reed said. “Excessive rainfall caused severe flooding, and all levels of government must work together to respond.”
Video Now: Gov. McKee reacts to severe flooding (Story continues below video.)
McKee said the state will take any help the government is willing to provide, so long as Rhode Island qualifies for disaster relief.
“If we qualify, we are going to take full advantage of it,” the governor said.
12 News heard from a number of drivers trapped by floodwaters, many of which were frustrated with the state’s response.
While he sympathizes with Rhode Islander’s frustrations, McKee pinned the blame on the impacts of climate change.
“I understand it was inconvenient, but when you have rainfall that strong in such a short period for time … I’m just happy there was a complete and good response from RIDOT,” he said. “We know that climate change is happening, and every time you get a reminder like this it just supports the idea that we need to continue doing work.”
The flooding was likely exacerbated by the extreme drought. The dry conditions may have prevented the ground from properly absorbing rainwater in some areas, causing it to flow into and build up on roadways.
This is also not the first time a major highway has flooded in Rhode Island this year. Late last month, I-195 West in East Providence was forced to close after heavy rainfall pooled between two highway overpasses.
That flooding, according to RIDOT, was caused by “extraordinary rainfall” combined with ongoing highway construction.
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