December 20, 2023
• A regional rainstorm swept through Needham Monday, downing trees and electrical wires, cutting out power and closing roadways. The blockages left some residents trapped in their neighborhoods, while others dealt with flooded basements and spoiled food.
At the beginning of Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, several locals spoke on the weather event’s prolonged impact. Though the scale of this storm is nothing new — especially after the excessive flooding in August — 22-year resident Rebecca Tarantino said more can be done to mitigate the impact.
A drain in Tarantino’s neighborhood predictably overflows after heavy rain, she said, but the Department of Public Works only drains the water “after many calls and many hours.” The same thing happened this week, with water levels so high that “there were waves lapping against my 87-year-old neighbor’s house,” Tarantino said. That neighbor’s basement flooded, as did her own, despite preventative measures, she said.
While she thanked the town and emergency responders for their efforts, Tarantino said she’d like to see change.
“I know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but 22 years is too long to be suffering from the same problem… The crisis is getting worse and has to be prioritized,” Tarantino said. “But in the meantime, I would like to ask that town management and DPW treat rainstorms like they do snowstorms.”
When asked about taking preemptive steps before an anticipated storm, DPW Director Carys Lustig said Monday’s storm was “misforecast.” The DPW did post a notice on Facebook about responding to fallen trees early Monday morning.
“We did anticipate that the majority of the winds and the majority of the rain was actually going to go to the west of us… That did not end up amounting,” Lustig said. “We ended up getting significant winds in the early morning that did a lot of tree damage. The high saturation of the trees right now is making them more prone to falling, which is what we found when it came to the power outages we had in town.”
After public comments, Select Board Chair Marianne Cooley acknowledged the extent of the storm as some residents faced a second consecutive night without power.
“There’s no good words,” she said. “I mean, it’s a shame.”
“Our heart breaks for everyone who got flooded out,” Vice Chair Kevin Keane added. “The damage to the homes was hard.”
The combination of flash flooding and severe winds caused disruptions in town, with a significant amount of debris ending up in the road and some of the town’s 4,200 catch basins, Lustig said at the meeting. Needham ended up getting four-and-a-quarter inches of rain, she said.
It was “all hands on deck” Monday, and tree crews cleared debris Tuesday, Deputy Police Chief Chris Baker. Officials had already closed roads when streets began to flood.
“We’re in full clean-up mode now,” he said in an interview.
About 360 Needhamites were still without power, according to a police department update Wednesday morning. Much of the initial outage — which affected an estimated 556 Eversource customers Tuesday, based on Eversource’s outage map — was concentrated on the south side of town due to tree limbs. Baker said he figures the density of the area’s trees, as well as their proximity to the road, may be contributing factors.
Several streets remained inaccessible as of Wednesday morning, according to the police department’s Facebook page:
- Crestview Road
- Whitman Road
- South Street between Riverbend Lane and Chestnut Street, as well as Charles River and Chestnut Street
- parts of Edgewater Drive and Rivard Road
- Webster Street between Sutton Road and South Street
After the DPW blocked off Dedham Avenue and Webster Street, Baker said a sawhorse — a trestle used as a traffic barricade — at the intersection got caught up in the stormy conditions.
“Because of the wind and the rain, the sawhorse fell down, and one of the pieces I guess floated down Dedham Ave. from Webster Street… I found it down at DeFazio [Park] when I went back to close the street again,” Baker said. “That was the height of the storm. It was like a river on some of the streets.”
Baker said he heard reports of trees colliding with parked vehicles, as well as a trampoline that blew into a home and possibly broke a window. Besides that, he said he heard no incidents of injuries due to the storm.
The DPW is prioritizing street sweeping main roads before neighborhood roads, which “is expected to take several days,” according to the Town of Needham Facebook page. Residents can report downed trees on public property at seeclickfix.com/needham.
During the Select Board, members also voted unanimously to delay the implementation of the community stormwater mitigation assessments, which would have imposed a fee schedule starting Jan. 1. With their approval, it will now be implemented April 1.
As the clean-up continues, Baker advised residents to be alert and cautious.
“Just take your time, and if you have to get somewhere, leave a little early,” Baker said. “Stay safe. Don’t go under any limbs on a road that you think may be falling. Call the police or fire if they see anything down or that looks unsafe.”