Flash Floods Hammer Lebanon; Rivermere Residents Evacuated
Sarah Resutek talks on the phone while looking up Slayton Hill Rd , while holding her daughter Lauren, her sons William and Stephen are beside her. The family lives on Old Kings Highway which is near Slayon Hill Rd.
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Shawn Mason uses a shovel to clear rocks and other debris from his driveway on Shaw Street in Lebanon, NH while his son Patrick, 12, left, and friend Ben Tichenor, 11, play tetherball on July 2, 2013. Tuesday afternoon's storm brought a river of water and rocks into his backyard.
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Water flows through cracks in the asphault on Forest Ave in Lebanon, N.H., on July 2, 2013 after flooding damaged several sections of the road and many others in Lebanon.
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Lebanon firefighter evacuate residents of the Rivermere housing complex across Slayton Hill Rd. in Lebanon on Tuesday after heavy rains flooded the road and housing complex.
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Lebanon — Flash flooding hammered the city for a second straight day yesterday, forcing Lebanon firefighters to evacuate 24 people from the newly opened Rivermere affordable housing complex when a brook overflowed and destroyed a nearby portion of Slayton Hill Road.
Elsewhere in the city, a stretch of Bank Street was damaged, streets in West Lebanon were closed by flooding and much of the Staples shopping plaza along Route 12A also was briefly covered by water as more than 2 inches of rain fell between 3 and 4 p.m.
“There are numerous roads which are partially and/or completely impassible,” said a statement issued by Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos last night. “Residents are urged to use extreme caution when traveling on all city and state roads.”
Heavy rain later in the evening also took its toll elsewhere in the Upper Valley, a region already saturated by a series of storms in recent weeks. Firefighters had to close part of Routes 106 and 131 in Reading and Weathersfield as water coursing down Mount Ascutney affected area roadways there.
“We’ve got a lot of roads closed, a few people safe but stranded until the water recedes,” Windsor Fire Chief Mark Kirko said just before 10 p.m. He said the water was “coming from everywhere,” and that a brook along Route 44 had spilled onto the roadway, covering it with about 5 inches of water, though the paved road was intact.
“Dirt roads are having all the problems,” he added. Firefighters were assesing the Mill Brook Dam, which “seems to be sound,” and a crew was hiking through woods to make contact with residents along Brook Road who were penned in by road closures from the flooding, Kirko said.
T he brook in central Lebanon tore down the steep Slayton Hill Road and threatened the Rivermere building. Worried that additional storms could threaten the housing complex near the Mascoma River, firefighters ordered residents to leave around 4 p.m. One by one, the evacuees gripped a rope spanning Slayton Hill Road as firefighters helped them wade through mud, debris and several inches of rapidly running water to cross to Dulac Street.
Nineteen of the residents were taken to an emergency center at Lebanon High School, which was to remain open all night for those residents needing a dry place. Five other Rivermere residents had made arrangements to stay with friends and family, Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Libbey said.
No one was injured, and the extent of damage to the Rivermere complex was unclear, Libbey said: The evacuation was triggered by fears that any additional rain could force more dramatic action last night.
“We don’t know what the other cells are going to do tonight,” Libbey said.
A crowd gathered across a bridge over the Mascoma River late yesterday afternoon, watching the rescue at Rivermere.
Among them was Heather Hawes, who watched helplessly as her 13-year-old daughter Katie Shambo, who had been home alone, was guided across the rescue rope by firefighters.
“I can’t get to you,” Hawes told Katie when the girl called her in a panic.
“It’s a little scary,” Hawes said.
In response to Lebanon’s woes, Gov. Maggie Hassan opened a state emergency operations center.
“We will continue to closely monitor the situation and provide any assistance needed for responding to this flooding to the affected Upper Valley communities,” Hassan said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Maple and Tracy Streets in West Lebanon were briefly closed in the late afternoon after a nearby brook flooded.
And near downtown Lebanon, Forest and Kimball streets were heavily damaged, and a chunk of Bank Street and its sidewalk east of the heart of the city also had collapsed onto what appeared to be a stormwater drainage pipe, breaking it to pieces. Curious passers-by snapped pictures with their phones and pulled over to the side of the road to check out the damage.
David Coombs, who lives on Bank Street Extension, has lived in Lebanon for four years.
“I don’t remember seeing anything quite like this,” he said, looking down at the large ditch that the collapse had formed as dirt-colored water spurted out of the broken pipe.
Bank Street resident Lucy McLellan said she can’t remember the neighborhood ever suffering that sort of storm damage before.
“I’m very shocked,” said McLellan. “I’m kind of numb, actually.”
Kevin Purcell, who owns a five-unit apartment building on Tracy Street in West Lebanon, said that there was a “tremendous amount” of flooding coming from what he suspected to be a brook whose bank collapsed behind his property.
“It looks to be like the brook that’s coming from the top of the hill has just given way,” he said. “It’s overflowing and flooding down to all the apartments below it.”
Purcell said he happened to be stopping by the property when the water surged down the hill; he managed to didvert the flooding from his apartments and spare any major damage. In 40 years of living in the Upper Valley, Purcell said he’d never seen flooding like yesterday in Lebanon.
“I’ve never seen it in my lifetime,” he said.
As for whether yesterday’s flooding represented a changing climate or just a freak weather incident, Purcell said, “If I knew that answer, I guess I wouldn’t own an apartment building.”
But he added that he has taken steps to prepare for major flooding only in recent years.
“We have processes and procedures in place that we didn’t in years past to prepare for these storms and these events, so I don’t know if that tells you anything,” he said. “We’re preparing for things that we didn’t used to prepare for.”
Pete Johnson, who owns the Staples Plaza building on Route 12A in West Lebanon, was standing over a pool of water more than 20 feet wide next to Encore Books yesterday afternoon, kicking away silt and mud from one of the parking lot’s storm drains. He said the flooding from the heavy rain there was bad yesterday, but “nowhere near” what he experienced during Tropical Storm Irene, when the Connecticut River itself flooded and surged across Route 12A.
“The only real problem we had (yesterday) was cars racing through and the waves rushing up,” said Johnson. “So it got the floors wet in a couple of stores where the waves came through.”
Johnson said the bookstore closed early, but suffered only minor flooding.
“They were mopping it up,” he said. “When the water went down, they closed up and said they’d come back in the morning to finish cleaning up.”
In southern Lebanon, Toni Laundry said she was playing with her children indoors when the heavy rain yesterday afternoon washed away the driveway at her Trues Brook Road home.
“I didn’t even know what was going on,” she said. “My neighbor ... knocked on my door and said, ‘Your driveway’s gone.’ ”
Outdoors, the damage was widespread: Chasms the width of a car stretched from the hilltop to the roadside, making it impassable by an ordinary vehicle.
“I need a driveway makeover,” Toni’s husband, Richard Laundry, said after getting home and walking up the driveway.
A National Weather Service meteorologist said the flooding yesterday was exacerbated by flash flooding that occurred Monday night in the Lebanon and Hanover area.
From 3 to 4 p.m. yesterday, the Upper Valley saw more than two inches of rain, the meteorologist said, and more thunderstorms are expected today. But the heaviest damage appeared to be centered on Lebanon.
In Hanover, some road washouts were reported by around 6 p.m., including Etna Highland, according to a town dispatcher. And authorities in Claremont put up a barricade at Windy Hill Road and Route 12A because of downed wires.
“The roads have been flooded but we’ve been fortunate in terms of (not having) any more damage,” said Claremont Fire Capt. Tom Belaire.
Hartford Fire Department Capt. Ray Bushey said around 6:45 p.m. that Hartford had been spared major flooding, at least thus far. “We pumped a basement (in White River Junction) and that’s the only issue we’ve had so far,” Bushey said. “We’re monitoring the storm and monitoring our rivers.”
But in Weathersfield and Reading, firefighters last night shut down a portion of Route 106 because of “water issues,” and Route 131 was also closed because of a “wash” near Jarvis Road in Ascutney. Route 44A in Windsor was also closed temporarily because of what appeared to be a plugged culvert near Cole Hill Road.
Plainfield firefighters were also called out to Hell Hollow Road as residents there feared they may need help because of a rising brook.
The rescue in Lebanon at Rivermere yesterday came after firefighters on Monday night evacuated seven apartments in the complex after the brook initially slammed into the back of the building. Firefighters monitored the building overnight, and workers scrambled to divert the runaway brook yesterday afternoon.
The flooding at Rivermere could not have come at a worse time, said Jennie Gibson, property manager of the Rivermere apartments developed by the Twin Pines Housing Trust, which celebrated the 21-unit apartment complex’s opening at a ribbon-cutting last week.
“It’s horrible timing,” said Gibson. “Everybody was just getting settled.”
On Monday night, water rushing off Slayton Hill Road pushed silt and dirt up against the edge of the building, and residents lost some personal belongings in the course of the flooding, said Christopoulos.
“It’s going to be a fair dollar amount,” Christopoulos said, who added that he was waiting on estimates for the damage.
Public Works Director Mike Lavalla said that several culverts on Slayton Hill Road were jammed up during the Monday storm, due to the volume of precipitation and the debris stuck in the inlets.
Lavalla said the department was in the process of blasting the culverts clear of large branches and other debris with a tool that shoots jets of water, and compared the process to drain cleaning done by a professional plumbing service.
The area on Slayton Hill Road has been prone to such events in the past, and Lavalla said that the department is reassessing the culverts to see if they are undersized based on the drainage area. But he added that there isn’t much Public Works can do to stop the type of flooding that Rivermere saw.
“It’s not necessarily the culvert sizing,” Lavalla said. “When you’ve got these areas that are adjacent to large areas of woodland, you tend to — with the high volume of water — you get debris and other things that will wash down and will plug up the inlet of the culvert, and that’s when they overtop.”
Not all residents were persuaded. John Simone, who lives on Slayton Hill Road, said that his property was damaged heavily by the storm Monday night, even worse than the damage incurred during Tropical Storm Irene. Simone added that the city should have fixed the culvert after Irene, and rejected the reasoning that culvert size wasn’t a major factor in the flooding.
“That’s not a satisfactory answer,” said Simone. “There’s no reason for this. There’s no reason that my house has to get ruined a second time through.”
Simone said the wash-out destroyed his driveway and caused water to circle around the back of the house, rushing down the hill and carrying debris onto his property. He said he repaired his driveway at his own cost after a sinkhole formed as a result of Irene, and estimated that he would need a similar repair after Monday’s flooding.
“This is not a hurricane, these are just rain storms,” Simone said. “And it’s the exact same scenario — the culvert got blocked again.”
Lavalla said that the prevalent nature of debris such as wood chunks six inches in diameter means that it doesn’t take long for the debris to pile up in the Slayton Hill Road culverts and the water to begin washing out.
“We do all we can in terms of preventative maintenance,” he said. “But there’s some times where this will happen and we really have no control over it.”
Valley News staff writers Zack Peterson, Greg Fennell, John Gregg and Dan Mackie contributed to this report. Mark Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (603) 727-3304. Ben Conarck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.