‘It’s Like Irene’: Upper Valley Picks Up After Damaging Rainfall

  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott surveys the scene on Van Norden Road in Thetford, Vt., on July 2, 2017. Selectboard chairmen Stuart Rogers, right, and Vermont Commissioner of Public Saftey Tom Anderson were looking at the scene with the governor. A number of residents were unable to leave their homes due to the damage on the road. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Daniel Crisman, of Bow, N.H., helps Autumn Brooks, of Orford N.H., step onto a section of Route 25A in Orford, on July 2, 2017. Amber Brooks, also of Orford, is on the left. The road is not passable after heavy rains hit the area on Saturday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sam Eaton pumps out the catch basin of Irene and Bill Jones's driveway in Thetford, Vt., on July 3, 2017. Eaton had also pumped their well because it had filled with silt after heavy rains. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Charlie and Lisa Ladd of Thetford, Vt., fill a section of their driveway in along Tucker Hill Roadd in Thetford, Vt., on July 3, 2017. Behind them is Lisa Ladd's brother Reese Keller, who is visiting from New Mexico. He was helping as well. Sections of the road were washed away after heavy rain hit the area on Saturday. (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
Sunday, July 02, 2017

Thetford — Irena Jones carefully navigated the large patch of mud outside her Latham Road home on Sunday afternoon, a hair dryer in one hand and the other outstretched for balance.

After clearing the mud, Jones carefully walked around the rubble and debris strewn across the North Thetford road and headed toward her neighbor’s house. There, the appliance was needed to dry off an electrical panel in the home’s flooded basement.

Like many Upper Valley residents, Latham Road residents spent Saturday night battling a deluge of water that flooded their street. Sunday was spent assessing the impact and beginning the cleanup.

“It was like a river running through those apple trees,” Jones said, pointing to a stretch of land behind her house.

With water flowing from a nearby interstate underpass, Jones’ husband went into actionand attempted to dam the water with his tractor. His effort ultimately failed, and a combination of silt and water entered their basement during the night.

“I think we must have had at least three days of rain because we’ve never had a problem with our downstairs, ever,” she said. “At least we can remedy it over time.”

Towns around the Upper Valley faced similar conditions — and worse — this weekend after being slammed by what the National Weather Service estimates to be between 2 to 3.3 inches of rain on Saturday. Damage reported — washed out roads, stranded residents, clogged culverts, flooded fields, water-filled basements — prompted many to recall Tropical Storm Irene, the rain event in 2011 that required months of recovery work.

A news release from Homeland Security and Emergency Management in New Hampshire reported that there were no deaths in Grafton County, where rain was recorded as falling an inch an hour, but that an initial estimate of damage was in excess of $4 million.

The damage on Saturday — a day when many towns were in the midst of July 4 celebrations – was widespread, but Lyme, Orford, Norwich, Lebanon and Hartford appeared to take the brunt of the storm.

Seemingly worst hit, though, was Thetford, with damaged roads, residents without water or phone service and, in some cases, isolated by impassable roads.

“We have 50 residents at least that are stranded,” said Selectboard Chairman Stuart Rogers on Sunday morning. “We can’t get to them. They can’t get out unless (they) walk.”

The first round of rain began at 11 a.m. on Saturday and was followed by a short lull, said Mariah Whitcomb, Thetford’s emergency management director. By mid-afternoon, the skies opened up again and didn’t stop until 11 p.m. that night, she said.

“We had several inches of water in that short amount of time and what that did was create a flash flooding situation in multiple areas of town,” Whitcomb said.

That prompted her to order an evacuation of portions of Route 132, and the Red Cross opened what it called a reception center for those affected until 11 p.m. at Thetford Academy.

Early Sunday morning, first responders gathered at an operations center in the Thetford Fire Department to assess the damage.

“Part of what we’re dealing with is the fact that we’ve had a significant amount of rain over the last week and so our ground has been saturated,” Whitcomb said.

In many parts of town, she said, the rain pushed debris from the hillsides down into culverts, which then became clogged and quickly overwhelmed.

Whitcomb estimated that several roads would need to be completely reconstructed in the coming months. Four homes were also in danger of being found uninhabitable either due to water damage or foundation issues, she said, adding the state building inspector would be in town today.

Lisa and Charlie Ladd blamed a culvert near their property for the destruction of a large portion of Tucker Hill Road. The couple were outside on Sunday morning, hauling rocks from the washed-out road to a portion of driveway they were attempting to stabilize.

“When it started to rain, I came down here in my garage and watched my driveway dissolve,” said Charlie Ladd. “This side (of the road) is not equipped to take this much water. That side is, but the culvert won’t let it through.”

Ladd said he intends to call his insurance company and hopes the town will repave a portion of the right-of-way from the street. This is the third time the road has washed away outside his home, the last being during Tropical Storm Irene.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Thomas Anderson, commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, toured the town on Sunday. Seeing the damage, they made mention of Irene’s damage in the Upper Valley.

“It’s like Irene in some respect,” Scott said. “We didn’t get the longevity of the storm. The intensity was there but it was very localized.

“Thankfully it didn’t continue to rain last night because we’d be in a really different situation today,” he said.

State officials will focus on making sure people have shelter first, Scott said, before helping towns assess damage and offering aid. He said it’s too soon to tell if there will be a disaster declaration, which would bring federal dollars to aid the cleanup.

Across the river in Lyme, officials were reporting similar conditions.

“We were starting the 4th of July parade. They got 20 feet and the skies opened up and it all went downhill from there, literally,” said Margaret Caudill-Slosberg, the town’s emergency management director.

As was the case in neighboring towns, Lyme’s hills contributed to the problem by helping water carry debris, clog culverts and undermine roads.

“That cascaded into closed roads, damaged roads, roads that may take months to repair,” Caudill-Slosberg said.

By Sunday afternoon, six Lyme roads were impassable and 18 were in need of extensive repairs. A few homes were cut off on Saturday, she said, but residents have since found ways around the damage.

In Orford, large sections of Route 25A were destroyed by fast-moving water, cutting off a main thoroughfare to and from Plymouth and the White Mountains. The state highway could take anywhere between two to five days to reopen, said Michael Gilbert, Orford’s emergency management director. Many local roads were also damaged, he said.

Lebanon and Norwich also found themselves dealing with the consequences of the deluge. Lebanon closed Route 4 between LaPlante Road and Moulton Avenue on Saturday, reopening it around 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. Norwich closed a section of Route 5 on Saturday and also reopened it on Sunday.

In Hartford, officials closed Old River Road, School Street and portions of Hathaway and Neal roads. All except for Neal Road were reopened on Sunday.

The sustained rain affected more than just roads. Amtrak began busing passengers from St. Albans, Vt., to Springfield, Mass., on Sunday because of damage to roughly 800 feet of track in West Hartford, according to the Associated Press.

In the wake of the storm, several officials asked that people stay off closed roads or damaged portions of roads after getting reports of “sightseers” ignoring signs. They also asked people to stay out of rivers and streams.

“It would be helpful for the people trying to get work done” for people to stay away, Caudill-Slosberg said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.