Johnston's Atwood Avenue under water following flash floods

MAYOR: ‘We’ve been waiting for over a decade for the state to mitigate the flooding on Atwood Ave.’


The water looks deep. But that guy made it through. I can’t back up now.

Just accelerate and pray?

Ocean State drivers find themselves in an increasingly familiar quandary.

Drive across the flooded roadway, go around somehow or stop, obstruct the traffic breathing on my back bumper, and hope the water retreats?

As torrential rains dumped on Johnston Monday, rivers, ponds and streams overflowed banks and onto roadways. Atwood Avenue, just before the Stop & Shop plaza, became an impassable tributary. At least one motorist lost the battle against the rising water. He and a small child were rescued from the car by firefighters in a boat.

“We’ve been waiting for over a decade for the state to mitigate the flooding on Atwood Avenue, which is a state road, nothing has happened,”  Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Jr. “We are trying to take matters into our own hands by asking our federal delegation, Senators Reed and Whitehouse, as well as Congressman Magaziner, for help.”

By Tuesday morning, Polisena said the flood waters damaged “multiple town buildings, the park, town roads and state roads” in Johnston.

“All three (Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner) have supported the Town and are seeking federal appropriations to fix the chronic flooding issues on Atwood Avenue,” Polisena said. “Moreover, between last night and this morning, all three reached out to check on the damage and well-being of our residents, which I am grateful for.”

Despite the still saturated soil forecasters predicted more rain likely later this week.

“As of this morning, much of the water has receded,” Polisena said Tuesday morning. “We are currently checking for any structural damage sustained from the flooding.”

The Atwood Avenue flooding issue has been frustrating town officials for years.

“The Town is in the middle of multiple stormwater drainage projects for town roads,” Polisena explained. “Stormwater drains are not connected to sewer drains.”


Johnston’s Emergency Management Director and Police Chief Mark A. Vieira is tasked with collecting flood damage estimates from residents. He’s been collecting tornado damage estimates since the Aug. 18 twisters that struck the area.

The damage footprint from the floodwaters rival that left by the August wind storm.

“Flash flooding occurs when storm drains become overwhelmed from heavy rainfall,” Vieira explained. “This heavy rainfall also exceeds the ground’s ability to absorb it. Stormwater floods roadways when there is more rainfall than the storm drains were designed to handle.”

Too much rain fell too fast Monday.

“When we get 5 inches of rain in 2 hours, as opposed to 2 days, the storm drains simply cannot handle that amount of water,” Vieira said. “The town is currently seeking Federal appropriations to correct the flooding issues on Atwood Avenue.”

The pond at Johnston’s War Memorial Park also overflowed its banks.

“Due to extensive flooding at … Memorial Park, the walking track will be closed until our crews can get the water out,” according to a post on the town’s Facebook page. “This is a public safety issue as the water has risen up over the pond, so please do not use the path.”

Vieira had a few tips for motorists caught on a flooded roadway:

“During periods of flash flooding, stay on higher ground and avoid driving through flooded roadways. Never drive your car into water of an unknown depth. Most flash flood deaths occur after people drive their vehicles into flood waters. If your vehicle stalls and water is rising inside your vehicle, abandon it immediately and seek higher ground.”

And if the rising water hits home:  “Lastly, avoid contact with floodwater that enters your home where floodwater has touched or submerged electrical outlets or cords making you at risk for electrical shock,” Vieira warned.

The town’s working with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) “to assess the extent of damage and costs resulting from the rain events that occurred on Sept. 10 & 11.”

“Johnston homeowners and businesses affected by the flooding are asked to email any incurred costs to Chief Mark A. Vieira, Johnston EMA, at,” according to a bulletin distributed by the town. “The email must provide your property address, contact information, and a description of your incurred damage or costs directly related to these weather events. Also submit by email any costs or assessments from your insurance provider or vendors providing service or quotes (other damage should be listed with a ‘best estimate’).”

Town officials ask those submitting estimates to include photographs, “if available … to support the damages.”

“This damage assessment is necessary in order to explore the possibility of a Small Business Administration disaster declaration,” according to the town-wide bulletin. “If you are unable to email your damage assessment, please contact Chief Mark A. Vieira at 401-757-3116 in order to make arrangements to submit your documentation.”


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