The National Hurricane Center stressed the storm could cause “considerable” flooding as it comes inland. It left more than 120,000 homes without power in three states by midafternoon on Sunday, according to PowerOutage.us, although many were back online by early evening.
Apparently unrelated severe weather events caused problems elsewhere, too. Trees toppled and a bridge collapsed in Murchison, N.C., amid violent flooding there. And flash floods devastated the small central Tennessee city of Waverly, leaving 21 dead and dozens missing as of Sunday afternoon.
President Biden, seeking to project competence and control in the face of dueling crises at home and abroad, said he has deployed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prepare for possible widespread damage from Henri.
Speaking from the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Biden said he spoke with governors from states likely to be affected and approved emergency declarations for Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York. He warned that Henri could compound with rainfall that has already affected the region over the past several days.
“While New Englanders are used to dealing with tough weather, this storm has the potential for widespread consequences across the region, with significant flooding and power outages that could affect hundreds of thousands of people,” Biden said. “So we are doing everything we can now to help those states prepare, respond, and recover.”
Henri weakened from a hurricane to a strong tropical storm Sunday morning, making landfall at 12:15 p.m. near the coastal town of Westerly, R.I. It unleashed wind gusts over 70 mph and produced coastal and inland flooding.
Residents and tourists in some picturesque New England beach towns saw conditions shift from calm and drizzly into full-bore tropical storm mode in the space of about a half-hour.
In Narragansett, R.I., a man who had been standing against a metal post to take pictures was bowled over by a sudden gust of wind, raindrops whizzing horizontally past an onlooking camera, according to footage posted by the local news station WCVB.
Sustained high winds and driving rain pummeled the asphalt from normally crowded, now-deserted Soundview Beach near Old Lyme, Conn., where the Connecticut River empties into Long Island Sound. The water there was already hubcap-deep around cars on streets even before the storm intensified around noon.
By late afternoon, the storm had further moderated as it moved inland. The National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. advisory found Henri’s peak winds had declined to 40 mph, making it a minimal tropical storm. It was centered about 20 miles southeast of Hartford, Conn., drifting west-northwest at 7 mph.
Henri weakened to a tropical depression Sunday night, and tropical storm warnings were discontinued.
However, the Hurricane Center warned that heavy rainfall and flooding were expected to continue through Monday across portions of southern New England into the northern Mid-Atlantic. The storm’s very slow movement, or even a halt in forward progress, will allow heavy rain to linger over some areas, increasing the flood threat.
“The cyclone will still continue to be a prolific rain producer, resulting in significant flooding across southern New England and portions of the northern mid-Atlantic states for the next day or two,” the Hurricane Center wrote.
Flash-flood warnings continued to be in effect around New York City into Sunday evening, as two to four inches of rain had fallen since Sunday morning with up to another two to four inches possible — in addition to several inches of rain that fell Saturday night. Other areas that could experience flooding rain through Sunday night into Monday include northern New Jersey, the Poconos, Catskills, western Connecticut and Massachusetts, and southern Vermont.
The National Weather Service has placed much of the Northeast in an elevated-risk zone for flash flooding through early Tuesday, with the highest risk covering the Poconos, northern New Jersey, New York City, the Catskills, Connecticut and western Massachusetts. The entire zone is expected to see at least three to six inches of rain, with isolated double-digit totals.
Making matters worse, many of these areas already had record rainfall in July and downpours from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred late last week. The ground is saturated, which will increase the threat not only of flooding but also tree falls due to the loose soil.
Even as the president urged people to abide by local evacuation orders, some weather-hardened New Englanders made clear they aren’t going anywhere.
“Where’s the storm?” joked Ralph Stanley as he walked his dog Sunday near the sea wall in the Morris Cove section of New Haven, Conn. Parts of New Haven are under a recommended evacuation.
Further up the street, Arthur DiAdamo used a lull in the rain to pull weeds in the front yard of his Dutch colonial home close to the Long Island Sound. The city recommended residents evacuate his area — the mayor himself knocked on doors Saturday urging people to leave — but DiAdamo was having none of it.
“Here I am,” DiAdamo said. “I’m not scared. I’ve been here for 50 years. Never had a problem.”
Nathan Hale School just north of the evacuation area and designated as a shelter, was empty save for a lone firefighter with a bag of equipment and three packages of bottled water.
Newport, R.I., seemed to be spared the worst projected impacts of the storm as Henri made landfall. The area is a popular boating destination, with docks, wharves and restaurants dotting the shore of the harbor.
An approximately 30-foot sailboat, named Paws, had washed up to the shore just below the park and tilted on its right side. A group of passersby gathered to gawk, but its owner appeared nowhere in sight.
A bit farther down the beach, resident Greg Hunter was stationed by his 22-foot Sea Fox, which appeared to have floated a couple hundred feet from its anchor spot in the channel, washing onto the sand.
Hunter was counting his luck — in part, because another boat within view had flipped over entirely, its blue and white hull bobbing up and down in the water.
“The good news is that it missed those rocks,” Hunter said of his boat — named Lynne Marie — pointing to a cluster of rocks about 20 feet away. “It’s weird that that’s all that happened.”
The storm provided only a brief dip in an otherwise booming tourist economy in the area, as tourists desperate for post-coronavirus pandemic getaways have flocked to Newport. Few businesses bothered to board up their storefronts even though Henri had been classified as a Category 1 hurricane ― similar to Hurricane Sandy that devastated areas around New York in 2012.
The Bouchard Inn and Restaurant lost 80 percent of its weekend reservations, according to George Williams, a front desk associate there. The Marshall Slocum Inn, about a mile to the northeast, lost eight reservations this weekend from tourists worried about the storm, according to owner Mark Spring.
To Allison Pagani, who was strolling down Thames Street in Newport with two friends, “everyone is being dramatic.” She added: “The fact that everything’s closed — it feels like an abandoned town. Like, where is everyone?”
There was a similar scene across the water in Montauk, a beachside town on the tip of New York’s Long Island. A 7-Eleven, across a narrow road from the beach, that boarded up its windows in preparation for a bad storm was busy with customers late Sunday afternoon. The convenience store used orange spray paint to write “OPEN” on the protective plywood.
Steven Burkholder, Chris Hoffman, Paulina Firozi, Matthew Cappucci and Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.