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Downpours disrupt Boston-area traffic

Vehicles were backed up in giant puddles of rainwater on Storrow Drive West on Wednesday.
Vehicles were backed up in giant puddles of rainwater on Storrow Drive West on Wednesday. (Globe Staff Photo / Suzanne Kreiter)

Massive traffic problems were reported around much of Greater Boston for several hours Wednesday as a series of heavy downpours caused widespread highway flooding.

Particularly hard-hit were the two main roads in Boston and Cambridge running along the Charles River --- Storrow Drive and Memorial Drive.

At one point the two arteries had to be shut down to travel because of the flooding was so bad.

Firefighters were shown on television carrying out at least two rescues of women trapped in cars that were partially submerged under highway bridges.

In one case the driver was taken out through the sunroof of the car and then carried on the back of a firefighter to drier land.

And the flooding problems were not limited to just highways.

Commuter train service on the Fitchburg line was disrupted between North station and Porter Square station in Cambridge because the tracks were flooded.

The MBTA, fearing the Muddy River might overflow, installed a sandbag dam at the portal of the tunnel on the Fenway line, which meant subway passengers had to be shuttled from Kenmore to Fenway station. In 1996 the river did overflow, and massive flooding took place along the Green Line at Kenmore and other nearby stations, shutting down the line for a number days until the water could be pumped out of the tunnel and signal systems repaired.

There were also reports of rain delays of inbound flights at Logan Airport.

The heavy rains began off and on right after dawn, and around noon it began pouring hard for the next three to four hours.

By the beginning of the afternoon commute flooding problems were not only being reported on the river roads, but also on several other major roads leading in and out of the city, including the Southeast Expressway, I-93 North, Route 1 North, and Route 9.

The National Weather Service at 1 p.m. issued a flash flood warning for Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, as well as other parts of east and central Middlesex County and northern Suffolk County.

Those surfing the NWS website during the afternoon could monitor the periodic radar views, which showed the movement of the storm systems from central Massachusetts east across the state to the coastline and eventually out to sea. They could also tell exactly where the heaviest rains were falling and what communities would soon be getting hit with downpours.

In the Worcester area there was highway flooding similar to what was experienced in Greater Boston; a motorist had to be rescued from a stranded, partially submerged car.

The NWS said the reason the rain was so heavy was because the weather system carrying it for a time was nearly stationary. By late afternoon reports of rainfalls in excess of 2 inches were reported in many communities and some had nearly 4 inches.

There were flooding problems reported on the Massachusetts Turnpike near the Prudential Center and along Route 9, both in the Natick area and near the Chestnut Hill Mall.

The rain was so heavy at times it made driving almost impossible because windshield wipers could not keep up with it and motorists had to pull to the side of the road and wait for the rain to ease up.

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