Video: Flooding Closes Roads, Prompts Voluntary Evacuations in Windsor Area

  • Jeff Katchen, a member of the Cornish Rescue Squad, moves a cone at the intersection of Route 12A and Town House Road in Cornish, N.H., on Jan. 13, 2018. Route 12A was closed due to flooding. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Laurie Hatch and her son Brayden, 8, of North Hartland, Vt., look out across the Connecticut River in Windsor, Vt., on Jan. 13, 2018. Ice dams had built up along the river causing flooding. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Gregg Oberg, of Norwood, Mass. left, plays Heads Up! with friends Ashley Hixson, also of Norwood, Rabi Fiotto, of Cambridge Mass., Jade Fiotto, also of Cambridge, and Chris Windle, of Boston, Mass. at the 12 % Solution Store in Cornish, N.H. on Jan. 13, 2018. The group, ten in total, are old friends who had rented a house for the weekend. They were evacuated because of flooding on Route 12A in Cornish. Along with the Fiotto's two dogs, they were waiting the day out at the store. They had not been allowed to drive their own cars out. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Leo Maslan, a member of Cornish Fire and Rescue, monitors the water level on Route 12A in Cornish, N.H. on Jan., 13, 2018. The road was closed due to flooding. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, January 13, 2018

Windsor — There were evacuations and closures in Upper Valley communities including Newport, Windsor and Cornish on Saturday in response to flooding associated with a January thaw that began with Friday night’s rainfall.

Emergency dispatchers used social media to ask motorists along Route 12A to find alternate routes to avoid flooded areas, while police and fire department responders set up roadblocks and asked residents in a handful of homes to evacuate.

As the parking lot of a retail plaza along Route 5 in Windsor was inundated with rising water levels from a small stream that connects the Connecticut River to Lake Runnemede, the Price Chopper there made an early afternoon decision to temporarily close its doors.

“As a fire chief, people, please, don’t drive into the water!” Windsor Fire Chief Kevin McAllister said around 3 p.m., standing outside the Price Chopper.

Before Route 12A was closed, McAllister said Windsor helped Cornish emergency responders retrieve two people who had tried to drive through a flooded area and became stranded. He said he had coldwater rescue suits on hand, but they were not needed.

In the parking lot, McAllister was answering questions and looking for signs that the floodwater lapping at the store’s rear wall had penetrated the building’s envelope. Earlier in the day, he said, a surge of water had come through when an ice jam near White Dairy Supply in Hartland had let go.

By a little past 3 p.m., the Windsor Fire Department and other police and fire officials said water levels appeared to be stable or receding, but they expressed wariness about the possibility of a major ice jam breaking and creating another, possibly larger, surge of water.

Around 10 a.m., Hartford Dispatch reported that the Cornish/Windsor Covered bridge was being closed to traffic because water had already covered both lanes of 12A in the area and was still rising.

In Newport, a short detour directed motorists around a stretch of Route 103 that was flooded where the Sugar River overflowed its banks.

By the late morning, Route 12A had been closed from St. Gaudens Road to Townhouse Road in Cornish.

In Windsor, officials decided to close Bridge Street, along with the Cornish-Windsor Bridge that spans the Connecticut River.

Residents also reported that the Ottauquechee Bridge had jumped its banks in Quechee, carrying large chunks of ice into the parking lot near the Simon Pearce building.

The Cornish Fire Department established a roadblock around 11:30 a.m. outside the 12 Percent Solution, a store on Route 12A owned by Mike and Janice Hamel, according to Fire Chief Robert Rice.

“We’ve evacuated the homes between here and the covered bridge,” he said. “We’re in touch with the dam owners in Wilder and Bellows Falls, and they’ve done very well to control this kind of thing.”

Rice said the flooding was worse in that area than it had been during Tropical Storm Irene. The fact that the ground was frozen, he said, would likely lead to a slower recession of the flood.

“The water’s got to go somewhere,” he said. “That’s the way it is in New England.”

Mike Hamel said the cash register had been quiet for most of the day.

“Most of our business comes across the bridge,” he said, noting that he had expected to sell a lot of beer. “Tonight is the Patriot (football) game, you know?”

“Get your rowboat,” joked Keith Timmons, a Mill Village Road resident who had stopped in.

Hamel said that, on Friday night, water from the hill behind the long building had seeped into the store. That’s happened before, he said, but he hadn’t seen the road flood so badly in his 21 years of ownership.

Near the back of the store, Gregg Oberg and 10 of his closest Boston University alumni friends were clustered around the stacks of soda cases, laughing and drinking bottles of water.

The group’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. weekend board game marathon had been disrupted earlier that morning, when firefighters knocked on the door of the Route 12A house they’d rented for the weekend, and told them they should evacuate.

“We left our cars there. Ten of us were riding out of there in the back of a pickup truck,” Oberg said.

One of the group, Ashley Hixson, 27, said the group comes to Vermont every year for a reunion. When they awoke, she said, they noticed the rising water levels.

“We said, ‘where did the trees go?’ ” she said.

Also in the group was Rabi Fiotto, who said that Hamel had been gracious and welcoming.

“He put us to work,” he said — Hamel had asked them to help him evacuate beer from a low-lying cooler to higher ground, and given them free drinks and snacks in return.

Around 5 p.m., Fiotto reported that the group had been directed back to their rental home, and was beginning a fresh round of gaming.

Alex Stradecki, a Windsor patrol officer, was directing traffic away from the Windsor side of the Windsor Cornish Bridge.

“We evacuated three or four homes down there,” he said. “Right now, the water is still eight feet below the bridge, so it’s precautionary. Right now, the concern is a big ice dam breaking, because there’s not much area for the water to go.”

Downstream along the Connecticut, where Route 12 crosses into 12A, Maureen Currier was one of about a dozen people who had stopped their cars and ventured onto the bridge to watch the flow of broken ice on the floodwater below.

“It’s just amazing, the power of it,” she said, pointing to 2-foot-thick slabs that were grinding along the bank, threatening to topple trees along the water’s edge.

Over the summer, a team of researchers at Dartmouth College analyzed precipitation data and found that intense rainfall events have become much more common in the region in the last 20 years. Town and regional planners have advocated building community resilience by building stormwater and other systems to anticipate these trends will continue.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.