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Some damage, no injuries when more than 7 inches of rain falls on Lost River area

By John Koziol
Union Leader Correspondent

June 26. 2014 8:07PM
This New Hampshire Department of Transportation truck was part of the repair effort Thursday on the eastbound lane of Route 112 in Woodstock after a flash flood undermined several hundred feet of the roadway. Repairs will take several days, according to NHDOT officials, although one lane will remain open for traffic. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

WOODSTOCK – The Cleveland family had a real North Country camping experience Thursday, including a little adventure -- courtesy of the rain-swollen Lost River -- a little food -- courtesy of a local restaurant -- and, ultimately, a happy ending and memories that’ll probably last a lifetime.

While most of New Hampshire was getting rained upon late Wednesday night into early Thursday morning, the Lost River area, on New Hampshire Route 112 west of downtown North Woodstock, was getting absolutely deluged, with 7.17 inches of rain falling there between noon Wednesday and noon Thursday, but almost all of it overnight.

Recorded by a meteorological station that is one of 20 in the New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s Road Weather Information System, the Woodstock downpour caused the east-flowing Lost River to rise some nine feet above its banks.

At the Lost River Family Campground on Route 112, the river rose more than a foot above a bridge that connects the main parking lot with the facility’s 139 camp sites, 36 of which were occupied by guests including Ken Cleveland, of Falmouth, Mass.

A camping enthusiast, Cleveland said he, his wife and their two children arrived at the campground Wednesday afternoon, just before the rain started.

He explained that his family stays at various campgrounds in the North Country, but this was their first time at Lost River, adding that it was definitely memorable.

“Our camper actually floated and we had to tie it off,” said Cleveland, who works in the pre-cast concrete industry back in the Bay State, recalling that floodwaters were more than half way up the 31-inch tall wheels of his off-road vehicle.

“There was a lot of chaos going on,” Cleveland added, “but the campground owners did an awesome job” in responding immediately and compassionately, later helping Woodstock Police Chief Douglas Moorhead distribute 100 breakfast sandwiches provided, free of charge, by the McDonald’s in nearby Lincoln.

Although his kids are “a little shaken,” Cleveland said he’d come back to Lost River, figuring that there probably won’t be a flash flood the next time.

Campground owner Jim Kelly – “Yes, just like the football player but he doesn’t have a flooded campground right now,” Kelly said by way of differentiating himself and the former Buffalo Bills quarterback -- checked the Lost River around midnight and while high, “everything looked safe,” he said.

Four hours later, however, Kelly, who has owned and operated Lost River Family Campground for 12 years, was awakened by the sound of “rocks rumbling in the river” and upon going out, encountered a foot of standing water in the parking lot, the first time that’s happened since Hurricane Irene in August 2011.

Moorhead, who has been Woodstock’s police chief for 20 years and has worked in North Country law enforcement for 30, said the flooding he saw yesterday, while not as bad as Hurricane Irene, was the worst he’s seen in the Lost River area.

Hearing that inclement weather was coming, Moorhead was on duty and was at the Woodstock Police Station when he got a call around 4 a.m. Thursday from the Lost River Family Campground where 85 campers – 51 adults and 34 children – were reported stranded.

On his way up Route 112, Moorhead watched as the campground’s ice machine floated past him, and upon arriving at the scene, he saw that the floodwaters were well above the connecting bridge to the campsites.

More critically, because he observed several vehicles orienting themselves in a seeming attempt to get across, Moorhead donned a rescue harness, affixed a rope to it and to his SUV and waded across the bridge.

Upon reaching the other side of the 40-foot long span – which was not damaged and which was passable later Thursday afternoon -- Moorhead confirmed that no one was hurt or injured while Kelly did a headcount.

Moorhead directed the campers to stay where they were because they were safe there and he then notified his selectmen, the NHDOT and state emergency officials.

Later he also checked on four people at the Maple Haven Campground who were similarly stranded but who also were safe in place.

In addition to the damage at the campgrounds, Moorhead said the floodwaters eroded several hundred feet of the eastbound lane of Route 112.

Because it was uncertain how much was affected, the east-west roadway was completely shut down between 5 and 7 a.m. but one lane was opened shortly thereafter and NH DOT crews were well into a repair that DOT Spokesman Bill Boynton said could take several days.

Despite all of New Hampshire getting rain Wednesday into Thursday, the only places where the rain caused problems on state highways, Boynton said, was on Route 112 in Woodstock and on Route 25-C in the Piermont-Warren area where there were about a dozen instances of damage to the road shoulder and banks, all of which was slated to be fixed by late Thursday.

“This was very localized,” Boynton said of the flood damage, adding that by comparison during the same time period, the DOT’s remote weather station at the Springfield rest area on Interstate 89 recorded only 1.96 inches of rain.

Margaret Curtis, who is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine said while she didn’t have the state, single-day precipitation record immediately available, the amount of rain that fell in the Lost River area yesterday would be at or near the top of the list.

Pinkham Notch saw a weather event in 1959 that produced 8.98 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, said Curtis, while the next highest total there was 7 inches in 1969.

Closer to Woodstock, she said a rainfall of 3.5 inches was recorded in Bethlehem in 1992 while Plymouth topped out at 4.02 inches in 1999.

Kate Wetherell, the general manager of Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves, which is about a mile west of the Lost River Family Campground, said the popular attraction sustained some flooding but no structural damage.

Lost River Gorge is currently drying out, she said, with water remaining over portion of the Lower Gorge boardwalk, but it will be fully open for business on Saturday.

Saturday, said Wetherell, “is supposed to be a beautiful day,” adding that with lots of rain water still draining off, “the waterfalls should be amazing” in Lost River Gorge, providing visitors with some great photo opportunities.

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