LAWRENCE — Traffic in and out of downtown slowed to a crawl during rush hour Thursday afternoon as heavy downpours spurred by fast-moving thunderstorms flooded Route 114/Parker Street between Central Bridge and Market Street.

Two vehicles stalled in the high water and its occupants had to be rescued by firefighters, according to one of the women carried to safety from her Toyota Highlander about 4 p.m. Firefighters assigned to the rescue unit extricated the drivers by using a Stokes basket, according to Deputy Chief Jack Meaney.

Lt. Dan Sanzi directed the rescue operation. The Stokes basket, shaped like a stretcher, enables firefighters to rescue people in a safe manner, Meaney said.

"I saw all the other cars going through, so I went," said Sandy Castro, who was headed west on Parker Street from South Lawrence. "I went, but got stuck."

Castro said the water was so high, she waited for firefighters to come and carry her to safety.

Another driver had to be evacuated and both vehicles were towed.

As public works crews waited for the water to drain, city vehicles, including fire trucks, blocked the road, diverting traffic onto South Canal Street on the north side of the flooded stretch of road and onto Market Street on the south side.

The extra traffic led to backups on South Broadway as well as other streets in and out of downtown.

Farther north, in Salem, New Hampshire, the Fire Department reported Route 28 was in "rough shape" in the construction zone near the Tuscan Village and advised motorists to use caution in that area and alternate routes if possible.

The heavy rainfall caused excess discharge into the Merrimack River at the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District sewage treatment plant in North Andover. The combined sewer overflow was reported by the district.

"The district will review all data related to this event and follow up with a separate email, normally within 24 hours," the district said in a statement to the public. 

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