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Power restored to thousands, flood waters recede

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 28. 2011 10:41PM

This view of the Blair Covered Bridge demonstrates just how high the Mad River reached during flooding from Tropical Storm Irene. ((Paula Tracy))

Emergency management officials say crews are making steady progress in restoring power and clearing and fixing roads in the wake of the tropical storm Irene.

'The sun's out and we didn't have any fatalities, and while we have damage, it's not anything of the magnitude that North Carolina and Virginia had,' said Jim Van Dongen, spokesman for the New Hampshire Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

There are approximately 116,000 homes statewide without power, down from a peak of 160,000.

Unitil has restored power to 21,000 customers and hopes to have most of the remaining 6,000 homes on line by the end of the day Monday.

Public Service of New Hampshire is aiming to reduce the outage number among its customers to 50,000 by the end of the day, and to have the remainder of customers on line within the next few days.

Van Dongen said there may be some scattered areas where power could be out through the week. 'It's definitely labor-intensive work to put the lines back up,' he said.

As of this morning, there were closings on 210 municipals roads and 49 state roads, including the Kancamangus, stretches of which were washed out. Van Dongen said crews are working as fast as possible to have the popular tourist road ready for the Labor Day weekend.

Other problem spots include Route 9 in Barrington and Route 12A in Lebanon. In addition, many local roads in the North Country remain impassable.

Water levels are receding statewide, with the exception of the Connecticut River in the Walpole and Hillsdale areas. Crews are working to clean up flooding in Plymouth, one of several locations where the Pemigewasset River overflowed its banks.

As of Monday morning, there were approximately 200 people in 23 shelters around the state. Van Dongen said he expects this number to go down as people are able to return to their homes or stay with relatives.

As the clean-up continues, Van Dongen stressed that residents be careful, particularly around downed power lines and in removing trees and branches with chainsaws.

'You really can't tell when a tree is damaged which way it will fall. It's best to get a professional to do that kind of work,' he said.

Irene hits NH hard: Thousands without power, flooding danger remains high


New Hampshire Union Leader

Despite weakening to a tropical storm from its peak as a category 3 hurricane, Irene hit New Hampshire hard Sunday, with heavy rain and wind knocking out power to more than 160,000.

The storm, which churned through all parts of the state, forced more than 100 road closures and nearly caused a breach of the Campton Pond dam in Campton, as the Mad and Pemigewasset rivers flooded.

'It's raining sideways right now,' Campton resident Tom Hoyt, 52, said just before 5 p.m. Sunday. 'We just had a big blow come through.'

The Mad River was raging and water was lapping at the end of his driveway on Route 175, said Hoyt, who has lived at 1246 Main St. for 22 years.

'I can hear the sound of giant stones getting rolled down the river,' he said. 'I've only heard that twice before.'

According to the National Weather Service, winds reached upward of 40 mph in southern parts of New Hampshire, with gusts up to 50 mph. But the biggest concern was - and remains - flooding.

The National Weather Service reported that the Pemigewasset River crested at 16 and 1/2 feet at 5:45 p.m. Sunday. Its flood stage level is 9 feet.

'We are concerned about possible record flooding on the' Pemigewasset River, said Greg Champlin of the New Hampshire Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. 'I've been here for 20 years and this is one of the quickest rises I've seen. This is a flash-flooding event.'

Champlin said the Campton dam held, though. 'It did not breach. There are sand bags in and the water is receding now,' he said at 5:40 p.m. Sunday.

Evacuations ordered

Because of the overflowing Mad River, a housing development for seniors, a mobile home park and all homes on Route 175 south of the dam were evacuated. Evacuations were also ordered in Littleton, Plaistow, Goshen, Hart's Location, Bow and Bartlett, Champlin said.

A flood warning was issued throughout New Hampshire, and a tropical storm warning was issued in Hillsborough and Cheshire counties through tonight.

Fire and police call centers were flooded with reports of wind damage and downed trees and power lines around the state, especially in the southern and western parts.

Sections of Route 101 in Bedford were not passable because of downed trees, and the Department of Transportation reported that Route 47 in Francestown was closed in the morning because of downed power lines; one lane near Exit 5 on I-293 South was closed because of excessive water on the road.

The Kancamagus Highway was also shut down.

Meredith Bay rescue

In Meredith, the Fire Department and New Hampshire Marine Patrol dealt with two thrill-seekers from Boulder, Colo., who decided to swim and kayak across a portion of Meredith Bay.

When Marine Patrol rescuers reached Rebecca Witinok-Huber, 28, and Jon Brady, 27, they were told the pair wasn't in need of rescue, as Witinok-Huber was attempting the swim with Brady as her escort for 'safety,' Deputy Fire Chief Andre Kaloetz said. They were taken out of the water anyway, even though both were 'very fit,' Kaloetz said.

'We explained to them as succinctly as possible they'd put a lot of people in danger with their little adventure,' Kaloetz said. 'There was absolutely no need for it. It really wasn't such a good idea.'

Neither was injured, he said.

'They were embarrassed when we brought them in more than anything,' he said.

Shelters set up

Towns around the state prepared for 5 to 8 inches of quick-moving rain by setting up emergency centers and shelters. The Red Cross opened four shelters and were already accepting people in Keene (Recreation Center), Nashua (Nashua North High School), Bow (Bow High School) and Kingston (Sanborn Regional High School).

Lisa Michaud, chief community relations officer, said all but the Keene shelter will allow pets, but asked that owners bring crates, bedding and food for the pets, which are being housed in separate areas. Pets are not allowed at the Keene shelter, but the Monadnock Humane Society in Swanzey has agreed to house them.

About 50 people had taken advantage of the shelters statewide as of 3:30 p.m. Sunday, she said.

The shelter at the Keene Recreation Center had as many as 22 people Sunday afternoon. Shelter manager Alicia Drew said most were from apartments and houses in the Water Street neighborhood that suffered severe damage during the Mother's Day flooding of 2005.

Red Cross worker Kellie Ellis helped manage the shelter in 2005 and remembers people being shipped in by buses. She said the community was better prepared this time around.

Bridge impassable

A section of Route 103 in Newbury was shut down because the bridge near Sutton Road was impassable due to rising water. Five roads in Lebanon were closed, with another eight sections of town listed by the Police and Fire Departments as under threat of floods from the Connecticut River.

According to the National Weather Service, the Saco, Ammonoosuc and Beaver rivers were also likely to crest above their flood stages.

Flights canceled

All flights coming and going Sunday at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport were cancelled. Tom Malafronte, assistant airport director, said that's a first in his 22 years at the airport for this time of the year.

'The impact is very much like a major snowstorm,' Malafronte said. 'To see something like this happen in August is an anomaly.'

Malafronte said he thinks flights will be up and going later this morning, but it will take several days before everything is back on track. He said airlines were re-booking flights as early as Friday, which may relieve some of the logjam.

Power outages

At 7 p.m. Sunday, about 145,000 New Hampshire customers were still without electricity, according to outage maps.

PSNH had reported more than 106,000 homes in 132 towns without power by the early afternoon. Unitil reported 22,900 homes in the Seacoast and Capital areas, and the New Hampshire Electric Co-op said almost 23,000 homes - mostly in the Lakes and Upper Valley regions - had no power. National Grid reported that more than 9,000 customers lost power.

Every one of the Co-op's 1,373 customers in Sandown and 1,174 customers in New Durham lost power Sunday; all but two of the company's 4,123 customers in Alton were without electricity.

Windham, Derry damage

About 80 percent of Windham residents had no electricity, according to Assistant Fire Chief Ed Morgan. The Highway Department was working with chain saws to open about 20 roads that had to be closed.

'It's all over town,' Morgan said. 'Many, many streets have been impacted.'

In Derry, about 45 percent of homes lost power, according to Fire Chief George Klauber.

An emergency shelter was opened at Londonderry High School for Derry residents, providing the opportunity for residents to stay overnight if they wished, or to just get a shower and meal.

Hampton Beach crowds

Tropical Storm Irene couldn't keep crowds off Hampton Beach. Lloyd Mallett, 60, of Newmarket, was among those who arrived just after sunrise to check out the waves and wind.

'I was hoping it would be worse,' he said.

Mallett wasn't sure how long he would stay.

'I'm going to stay as long as the wife doesn't miss me,' he joked.

Union Leader Staff Writer Paula Tracy and Correspondents Adam Swift, Jason Schreiber, Annette Kurman, Larissa Mulkern, Sara Young-Knox, Kim Houghton, Lorna Colquhoun and Julie Hanson contributed to this report.

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