Swollen rivers, submerged homes: Looking back at the historic 2010 floods 10 years later

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) ─ It’s hard to believe, especially with the coronavirus pandemic on everyone’s minds, but it’s been a decade since the historic 2010 floods devastated Rhode Island.

Rhode Island received nearly 16 inches of rain in March 2010, which swelled rivers and led to flooding across the state.

So, what actually caused flooding of this magnitude to happen?

It all started earlier in the month when 7 inches of rain fell, leading to minor flooding. The additional 9 inches of rain that fell during the last few days of March ultimately led to the overflow of the already swollen rivers.

2010 Historic Floods: The Warwick Mall (Courtesy: Josh)

The Pawtuxet River rose to 13 feet above flood stage, cresting at 20.79 feet.

The river’s overflow ultimately drowned out nearby roadways, neighborhoods and businesses.

A portion of I-95 in Cranston and Warwick became flooded, which led to the shutdown of a portion of the highway.

It also left the Warwick Mall partially submerged for days. It remained closed for months after the floods as it underwent thousands of dollars worth of repairs.

Meteorologically, high pressure in Eastern Canada became a roadblock in the atmosphere, forcing the storm to stall south of New England for a couple of days. That storm worked with deep tropical moisture, producing the torrential rain that caused the flooding.

It was more than just the tremendous amount of rain that led to the flooding, however.

Historic 2010 Floods: Heavily damaged Summit Road in Exeter (Courtesy: Valarie Spicher)

Development across the state created acres of concrete and asphalt, which water can’t penetrate. Instead, those surfaces funnel much of the water into rivers and streams. That development also destroyed natural buffers like grass, forests and wetlands, which can all protect populated areas from flooding.

As the rivers swelled, dozens of roads and bridges across the state eroded and were badly damaged from the rushing water, including the Laurel Avenue Bridge in Coventry. It took nearly two years for the bridge to be completely replaced.

“The Flood Crews of 2010,” as told by the Rhode Island DEM »

The flooding also overwhelmed sewage plants across the state, including the West Warwick Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility. The overflow spilled contaminated water into nearby neighborhoods and submerged dozens of homes.

Fortunately, no one died as a result of the flooding. The rainstorm that caused the historic flooding is considered a “1-in-a-100-year storm,” meaning there’s a 1% chance it could happen in any given year.

Photos: Looking back at the 2010 floods 10 years later »

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