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Storm brought worst coastal flooding in recent memory

Sunday News Correspondent

January 06. 2018 9:25PM
Firefighters arrive to rescue a driver after his car was surrounded by floodwaters on a side street in Hampton Beach during Thursday's nor'easter. (Chris Vlangas)

HAMPTON - Richard Walker watched in awe as floodwaters from the rising tide and massive chunks of ice swamped his neighborhood behind Hampton Beach and came dangerously close to his foundation during Thursday's ferocious nor'easter.

Walker has lived near the marshes on Battcock Avenue since 1990 and remembers the so-called "Perfect Storm" in October 1991 that wreaked havoc up and down the New England coastline.

The flooding in his neighborhood this time around was worse, he said.

"The water didn't come up as high then as it did now," he said, "and that was bad."

The latest nor'easter to pound the New Hampshire coastline brought the worst flooding to some areas in recent memory. Hampton Police Chief Rich Sawyer described it as the worst he's seen in his nearly 40 years in town.

Hampton fire and rescue personnel evacuated as many as 11 people from their homes and 10 people from vehicles as the floodwaters rose quickly and caught some by surprise.

Despite the extent of the flooding, no injuries or significant damages were reported.

John Cannon, a senior meteorologist and marine program manager with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said areas were inundated with at least 2 feet of water, but residents and officials said they saw water that was at least 4 feet deep.

Cannon said Hampton is a vulnerable shoreline community with many low-lying roads in the back bay area.

Forecasters were predicting potentially dangerous floodwaters in the area Thursday, but, Cannon said, "It was still higher than we anticipated."

Homes, cars evacuated

Robert Johnson described Ashworth Avenue as a river with chunks of ice and snow floating down the street.

"I went in the house and I was watching the news for about 10 minutes. It generally comes in pretty quick anyway, but this was by far much faster than usual. It moved in quick," Johnson said.

He threw on his rubber boots and put plastic contractor bags over them that he tied around his waist and waded through the water to get to his pickup truck. He feared the truck wouldn't start, but he got it running and was able to get it out as the floodwaters rose up to his thighs.

At least two of his neighbors whose houses are lower had to be evacuated.

"We're used to the high tide here," he said, "but it was double what it normally is."

Several people in the neighborhood hunkered down inside Wally's Pub as firetrucks created waves driving along Ashworth Avenue.

Several inches of water mixed with snow and ice still flooded sections of some streets Friday morning.

Ed Chaput splashed through the slushy mess to get to his truck.

"It was a panic," he said as he recalled the moments as the water rushed in.

Like many others, Chaput said the flooding was the worst he's seen.

Chaput was inside his house and went to let his dog out when he noticed all the water. That's when he and others began rushing around to move their vehicles out of the water.

"The lousy thing was I had to walk in water. My boots, my pants, everything got wet," he said.

Katie Pawlika lives on J Street and began to panic when she saw the water flooding her Honda Civic.

"I definitely thought it was going to float away," she said as she and her fiance, Curt Hanig, tried to shovel out the snow and thick ice from around the car before an insurance adjuster arrived to assess the damage.

Hanig has lived at the beach for 15 years and said it was the worst he's seen. The rising tide also flooded their furnace attached at the back of their residence.

"The tidewater went up probably about 10 inches past the door and went in the furnace," he said.

Hanig and Pawlika spent Friday waiting for the furnace to dry out. With the furnace out of service, they've been relying on space heaters.

Donna McCarthy bought her beach house next to the marsh last May and spent months remodeling. She was discouraged to find the crawl space under the home flooded during the storm. The rising floodwaters moved the shed in her yard and relocated her snowblower.

McCarthy was shocked when she looked out her front door.

"All of a sudden water was coming down through the driveway and everywhere," she said.

McCarthy wasn't sure what to do as the water rose around her.

"I kept waiting for the water to recede. I didn't even know where to go," she said.

She said she called the police department but was unable to reach someone. That's when she decided to head to her car and was lucky enough to get out. She spent the night at her son's house and the two returned Friday to clean up.

A high-water storm

The tide gauge in Hampton reached 13.22 feet; flood stage is 11 feet.

The duration of the flooding was also surprising as it began at 11:23 a.m. and lasted until 2:55 p.m., Cannon said.

While the marsh flooding was significant, flooding from wave action wasn't as bad as it could have been because the storm moved through quickly with heights just offshore reaching about 15 feet.

"It was a fast-moving storm and waves do not build as much with a fast mover. They don't have time," Cannon said.

The coast took more of a battering from waves during the Perfect Storm and the Blizzard of 1978, he said.

Cannon called Thursday's nor'easter more of a high-water storm and less of a wave-battering event.

But it had the potential to be much worse.

"If high tide had been a few hours later the flooding and damage would have been even worse because the full fury of the storm was reached after high tide," he said.

Richard Devine, a local builder, was working on a house during the storm. He said he rushed out to his truck to get out as soon as he could. The water was about 18-inches deep at that point.

"I looked down. I couldn't believe how quick it happened," he said.

Chris and Elizabeth Vlangas bought their house on Island Path Road in 2014 and are spending their first winter there as year-round residents.

They watched as a man was rescued from his flooded car by firefighters.

The house is on stilts and they could hear the water rushing underneath.

The water reached their front steps.

"It was scary. If it rose 2 more inches it would be coming in our house," Elizabeth said.

General News Public Safety Weather Hampton

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