Drownings lead to plea for extreme caution on NH rivers

Union Leader Correspondent
New Hampshire Union Leader
July 07. 2013 6:11PM
Swimmers wander across the upper rapids at Livermore Falls Saturday. The New Hampshire Marine Patrol issued a warning Sunday, asking people to use extreme caution on rivers made dangerous by recent heavy rain. (DAN SEUFERT PHOTO)

Three people drowned in New Hampshire over the long holiday weekend, prompting warnings about the need for increased attention to water safety at a time when rainfall close to twice the norm has swollen the state's rivers.

Two of the people who lost their lives this weekend were New Hampshire residents who perished after being caught in strong currents on the Merrimack River.

The third drowning victim was a Massachusetts resident who died while swimming in Country Pond in Newton.

Sunday, state Fish and Game dive team members recovered the body of a 20-year-old Penacook resident who was swept up by the fast-moving Merrimack current while swimming in Boscawen.

Daron Graham, 20, had been missing since Saturday afternoon.

Officials said Graham was among a group of swimmers seeking relief from the oppressive summer heat when he got into trouble. Several swimmers tried to come to his aid, but were unable to reach Graham due to the fast-moving river current.

Another Concord man, Gary Lacroix, 59, drowned in the river Friday after falling in as he bent over to pick up something. Lacroix was also caught up in the strong river current, rescuers said.

On Sunday, an 18-year-old resident of Boston's Mattapan section died in a Massachusetts hospital after being pulled from Country Pond in Newton, near the town beach.

Newton town lifeguards and other swimmers performed CPR on Sheldon Jean-Laurent. He was airlifted to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where he died late Saturday night.

Initial reports were that the Newton drowning victim was from Manchester.

"We're all overheated and we all want to go in the rivers and cool off, but this is a bad time to do that," said Franklin Fire Chief Kevin LaChapelle, who is also deputy chief of the Three Rivers Swift Water Extraction Technician (WET) team.

"You could be standing knee-deep in a river and the currents could change and you could be swept away," LaChapelle said.

The New Hampshire Marine Patrol issued a warning Sunday asking people to exercise extreme caution on rivers. Anyone paddling a kayak or canoe should wear a life jacket or other personal flotation device; life jackets also should be worn when tubing, according to the Marine Patrol.

People seeking water recreation should go to lake beaches and the Seacoast, New Hampshire emergency responders said.

Rainfall during the first weeks of the summer vacation season has been dramatically higher than normal, according to meteorologist John Cannon of the National Weather Service.

The normal rainfall for June at Concord is 3.69 inches, but the total this year was 6.78 inches, or 91 percent more rain than normal. July has also started off with heavier rain, with more than twice the normal rainfall in the month's first week; 1.46 inches have fallen, the norm is two-thirds of an inch.

"We're looking at areas of heavy rain to set up during the week, so above-normal flows will continue," Cannon said.

A Concord woman was rescued from the Winnipesaukee River on Saturday after she got in trouble tubing along the river, authorities said. On Thursday afternoon, five people were involved in a tube-rafting incident at Livermore Falls on the Pemigewasset River and had to be rescued.

The falls are extremely dangerous now, and recreation seekers should not go near the area, said Campton-Thornton Deputy Chief Ian Halm.

"Livermore Falls is always dangerous, but particularly so lately," Halm said. "It's not a place where even expert kayakers are safe."

At least seven people have died in water accidents at Livermore Falls in the past decade. The falls are part of three towns — Campton, Plymouth and Holderness.

In Lebanon, crews continued to work on repairing flash flood damage caused by the severe rain event that hit the city last Monday and Tuesday. Damage is expected to exceed $2 million.



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