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Plymouth hit especially hard

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 29. 2011 11:21PM
Nick Therrien of Plymouth, a member of the White Mountain Youth Hockey, looks out at a canoe approaching on Route 175A in Holderness on Monday while the equipment for the team dries out on the lawn. Water from Tropical Storm Irene brought the Pemigewasset River up 17 feet above flood stage early Monday, damaging Plymouth State University's $16 million ice arena and welcome center. (PAULA TRACY / UNION LEADER)

PLYMOUTH - The impact of Tropical Storm Irene was being fully felt Monday as residents along the Pemigewasset, Baker, and Mad Rivers began to return home.

Gov. John Lynch, who toured the hardest-hit areas in the state by helicopter and met with residents Monday, said he has seen his share of floods, but 'I have never seen so much water, here.'

For many in the region, it represented the worst flooding in 30 years.

'We are certainly pleased the President granted us a pre-flood disaster declaration,' Lynch said, noting later in a written statement: 'It is important that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assessment teams begin work as soon as possible to determine New Hampshire's eligibility for federal disaster relief.'

Damage included the flooding of the state's new $16 million Hanaway Ice Arena at Plymouth State, which had about four inches of water covering its ice about 3:30 a.m. Monday. Holderness Police Chief Jake Patridge said officials believe a door designed to withstand floods failed to work.

PSU President Sara Jayne Steen, who traveled by boat about 6:30 a.m. Monday into the field house to find about an inch of water on the floor, said cleanup and damage estimates were under way.

'Fortunately we have no reports of injuries,' she said.

Patridge noted that there was between six and seven feet of water covering Route 175A between Holderness and Plymouth at 5 a.m. when the Pemi crested at 21.69 feet. Flood stage is about 13 feet.

Plymouth Police Chief Steve Temperino said he was hopeful that the river would recede enough to allow some of the many roads into the community to open in time for more than 4,000 students to return to Plymouth State University today. As he spoke Monday afternoon, there was only one passable route into the community at Exit 26, on the Tenney Mountain Highway.

PSU move-in was pushed back from Sunday to Tuesday because of the forecast for heavy rain, winds and power outages - all of which materialized.

For PSU Seniors Neala Larkin of Connecticut and Erin Grube of Londonderry, the timing couldn't be worse. They moved into their student housing at 14 South River St., Saturday.

Police came by Sunday at 4 p.m. telling them they must evacuate. By 8 p.m. they had packed and the river was moving in. They returned home Monday afternoon to find six inches of water covering their first floor.

Fred Gould of Fairgrounds Road in Plymouth said he was 'absolutely shocked' at the speed of the water rising around his home Monday from the Baker River.

'I have been here 30 years and never has it been like this,' he said.

About 25 New Hampshire Army National Guard troops were deployed to Loon Lake in Plymouth, which was entirely cut off from roads, to check on the wellbeing of people in the homes.

Paul Freitas, emergency management director for Plymouth, said about 60 percent of the residents of 50 or more homes declined offers to evacuate.

The historic Blair Covered Bridge in Campton was impaled by a tree floating downstream in the Pemigewasset River. The bridge is closed.

A small dam in Campton's Bog Road area at Beech Hill Road was breached, state police said. They were able to maintain the dam at Campton's Route 175 and 49, which was in danger of breach.

Kerry Benton of Thornton was among those who found over six inches of water inside his first floor Monday. Carpets, wood, furniture and appliances were all damaged.

'Fortunately I have flood insurance,' he said as he lifted heavy sandbags off a deck at the Country Cow Restaurant in Campton. He and about 30 other local residents helped try to save the restaurant from a direct assault on the ground floor of the facility, which often hosts functions.

Gov. Lynch went by helicopter as far north as Hale's Location and Bartlett, moving down along the Kancamagus River to view road damage, then to Lincoln - where access to Loon Mountain and hundreds of homes was compromised by flooding of the East Branch of the Pemi.

Accompanying him was Commissioner of Safety John Barthelmes.

'It really was a storm which involved power outages in the southeast of the state - that is Rockingham, southern Hillsborough and a bit of Merrimack - and damage by flooding in Coos, Carroll and Grafton,' he said.

'Right now it's all about assessing the amount of damage,' he added.

FEMA staff were on the ground in New Hampshire prior to and during the storm and are now working with other agencies to assess damage to roads, bridges and infrastructure.

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