First, Jane Pillar watched the street in front of her house turn upside down and disappear under water, like something out of a horror movie.
Then, the town had to put barriers up on her driveway, because 50 curious people a day were showing up with cameras to get a better look at the damage.
“The destruction itself became a tourist attraction,” said Pillar, who lives on River Road in Mystic. “People were down here all the time, taking pictures, walking on your property. It was just the way you see it on T.V. when there’s a catastrophe.”
The floods a year ago today caused $1 million in damage to streets like River Road, and led 1,200 homeowners and businesses to file claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among the highest number of claims in the state.
“We had rivers in neighborhoods where no rivers exist,” said Joseph Sastre, director of Groton's office of emergency management.
The emergency system that normally dispatches 120 to 130 calls per day took 1,000 the day after flooding began.
Pillar said she watched River Road fall apart as she stood in her house.
“You actually saw the asphalt roll,” she said. “I’ve never seen that except in horror movies. The road lifted up and actually flipped itself up over the other part of the pavement that was still existing. Right in the air.”
Swift water rescues
In parts of Mystic, Sastre said the fire department began calling for “swift water rescues” to pull people out of cars.
Mystic Fire Chief Frank Hilbert said firefighters rescued or retrieved 3 people and several pets from rising water. The rain flooded homes that have never had water before, because there was so much it couldn’t drain through the soil fast enough, he said. Rather than overflowing streams, homes were flooded by rising groundwater.
Sastre said firefighters would be dispatched to one house, and neighbors would call for help next door.
“They were going from house to house to house,” he said.
Along Thames Street, a road built before modern standards existed, a section of retaining wall about five feet wide, including a fence and half the sidewalk, gave way between Paul’s Pasta and Thames Army Surplus.
Paul Fidrych, who owns Paul's Pasta, was at the store that morning.
“We didn’t hear anything,” he said. One minute, an employee was handling a delivery and the wall was there, and a few minutes later, it was gone, he said.
Bright Horizon Day Care, which serves the children of Pfizer employees, became unreachable by commuters. Roads around it were under water, so the company got a bus that could drive through the flood and shuttled parents in and children out.
At Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson on Gold Star Highway, six feet of water poured into the service area on the lower level; the store lost tools, diagnostic equipment, parts, inventory and customers’ bikes.
Still, Sastre said Groton was spared the worst, even with the number of homes and businesses damaged.
“There were people that needed to be rescued, but nobody was hurt and nobody was killed, which is totally amazing,” he said.
“We saw the road disappear”
One of the hardest hit areas was River Road.
Pillar, who lives across from a pond that overflowed, said she remembers torrential rain first.
“You could hardly see it was so bad,” she said. The pond rose before her eyes.
The following morning, it was advancing like a river over the road, she said. Two hours later, it reached the bank on her front yard, perhaps 20 feet from the door.
Her husband called police.
“We saw the road disappear,” she said. “You know how the horseshoe falls are on Niagara Falls? (Where) you can actually see an indentation with the waterfall? That’s what it looked like.”
Two cars tried to drive through.
“It lifted this truck up and that poor gentlemen, he evacuated the truck,” she said. “But the truck kept moving.”
Ever so often, she'd see if float by.
She worried about her neighbors across the street, because they have young children and are on lower ground, she said. So she was watching their house when the pavement lifted up in the air.
Destruction a tourist attraction
One of the worst parts of the flood was the crowd it attracted afterward, Pillar said.
The town put up barriers to keep cars from backing up in her driveway, but some people moved them or motorcycles drove though.
Neighbors couldn’t get to Route 27, and had to find alternate routes. They drove miles out of their way for months.
“This is so isolated, people don’t realize how traumatic it was,” she said. “Your whole life is disrupted.”
Town Public Works Director Gary Schneider said that in addition to River Road, flooding damaged part of the wastewater treatment plant, including the system that helps remove nitrogen from treated water.
He said the town expects to go out to bid on both projects within eight weeks.
On Thames Street, Fidrych said repairs will be done between July and September. It's inconvenient that it must happen during the busy season, but he added, "what can you do?"
Pillar said she’s relieved that River Road will soon be fixed.
“Sometimes I sit on my front steps and when it looks like it is nice, and I say, ‘When is this going to be over?” she said. “For all of us.’”
Freelancer Michael Gannon and Local Editor Bree Shirvell contributed to this story.