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Disaster declaration sought for March NH blizzard

State House Bureau

May 14. 2017 10:00PM
A plow clears Donati Drive in Hooksett pedestrian during the March 14 nor'easter. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Gov. Chris Sununu has asked President Trump to declare a major disaster for Belknap and Carroll counties in the hope of receiving federal emergency assistance in connection with the Election Day blizzard of March 14.

The state sustained widespread damage, including property damage, in eight of 10 counties, according to Sununu.

“This storm considerably strained state and local resources; it consumed staff time and exhausted available resources due to statewide blizzard conditions, strong winds, reduced visibility and significant debris that restricted travel and storm operations,” the governor wrote in a May 14 letter to the president, sent via Paul Ford, regional administrator for FEMA Region 1 in Boston.

The request calls for a full public assistance program in Belknap and Carroll counties, and hazardous mitigation grants throughout the state.

Sununu implemented the state’s Emergency Operations Plan from March 14-15, when accumulation totaled between 12 to 20 inches across the state with snowfall rates of two to three inches per hour, and winds exceeding 80 miles mph during the storm.

It left 143,988 households without power and damaged more than 200 electrical power poles and associated equipment, resulted in hundreds of traffic accidents, forced more than 500 school closures, and delayed flights in and out of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

The storm also caused thousands of customers across 24 communities in Belknap, Carroll, Grafton, and Merrimack counties to lose telephone, internet and cable service for several days due to damages to fiber optic circuits cut by falling trees.

“These severe conditions created damages that overwhelmed the capabilities of state and local jurisdictions and required an immediate, urgent response,” Sununu wrote. “The overwhelming damages and conditions were most severe in Belknap and Carroll counties, both located in central New Hampshire, resulting in requests for state assistance.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, working with state and local emergency management officials, recently completed a preliminary damage assessment, finding that the statewide costs for response to the storm exceeded $2.1 million, including $1.8 million in Carroll County and $281,629 in Belknap County.

In addition, six other counties experienced significant damage but did not meet the federally required thresholds on a per capita basis, including Rockingham County with nearly $146,000 in damages.

If the request is granted, government agencies and certain private non-profits that provide a critical service will be eligible to apply for disaster relief and emergency assistance grants.

Communities most likely to receive assistance if the application is approved include Moultonborough, Tuftonboro and Wolfeboro in Carroll County and Alton, Belmont and Center Harbor in Belknap County.

Sununu observed that the impact of the storm was particularly severe, coming as it did at the end of a storm-filled winter when the state’s Emergency Operations Center was activated a dozen times prior to March 14.

“The number of storms over a short period of time strained response resources at both the state and local levels,” the governor wrote.

The state DOT used 225,947 tons of salt over the winter, the third-highest amount of salt used in one winter since 1942, when tracking began.

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