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Sugar River floods in Newport; some homes evacuated

  • Kale Huard, 4, of Jaffrey, N.H., and his family were evacuated by the Newport Fire Department on Thursday night from the Northstar Campground in Newport, N.H. Due to heavy rains, the Sugar River breached its banks. On Friday, July 30, 2021 Huard and his family returned to the campground to clean up. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Aubuchon Hardware store manager John Sansevero pushes river water of the store on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Newport, N.H. Heavy rains Thursday night caused flooding of the Sugar River. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Doug Byam, of Harrisville, N.H., picks through his things at the Northstar Campground in Newport, N.H. on July 30, 2021. Byam's family and friends were at their annual gathering at the campground when heavy rains hit the area, flooding the Sugar River. Campers were evacuated by the Newport Fire Department on Thursday night. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Amanda Kingsbury, of Walpole, N.H., left, Deb Clark, of Stratham, N.H., Nancy Hickox, of Jaffrey, N.H., and Cindy Stone, of Harrisville, N.H., were evacuated on Thursday night from the Northstar Campground in Newport, N.H., due to flooding of the Sugar River. On Friday, July 30, 2021, they waved at the campground's owner as they returned to salvage their thing. The group camps at Northstar on the same weekend every year. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • Ruth Callum, of Unity, N.H., leaves Sugar River Pharmacy while Andy Donth, of Newport, N.H. goes in on Friday, July 30, 2021, in Newport. Most of the businesses in the Sugar River Plaza were closed due to overnight flooding from the Sugar River. (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
Published: 7/30/2021 8:21:17 AM
Modified: 7/30/2021 9:38:31 PM

NEWPORT, N.H. — Cindy Stone has held an annual reunion for her close friends at Northstar Campground for the last 22 years. Their children grew up with the tradition, and now they bring their children. By Thursday, about 15 families had set up their campers and tents on a low-lying lawn along the Sugar River, and Stone wasn’t worried about the rain.

She had seen the river rise over its banks in past years, but never very far. She was looking forward to long-standing summer traditions: community dinners, live music and conversations with friends.

But then a storm arrived fast and angry Thursday evening, dropping almost 5 inches of rain and supercharging the usually calm river.

“When the river started rising, it was light. When it got dark, it got crazy,” Stone said.

Stone first took refuge in a pavilion on higher ground with her 3-year-old grandson, Kale. Not long afterward, she had to wade through waist-deep water with him in her arms. She and her husband tried to escape in their truck only to drive into a washed-out road and find themselves trapped in a ditch.

By the time Newport firefighters arrived, urging people at the campground to evacuate, they had already gotten about half of the families out.

Newport Fire Chief Steven Yannuzzi said that his department evacuated 25 people from the campground along Coon Brook Road, near Route 10. They brought some to an emergency shelter at the Newport Recreation Department on Belknap Avenue, but almost everyone spent the night in local hotels or with family. One man stayed at the fire department.

The National Weather Service said up to 4.87 inches of rain fell near southern Sullivan County, and after a record-setting month of precipitation, the ground struggled to absorb the rain. The Sugar River also overflowed its banks along John Stark Highway in downtown Newport, flooding the parking lot of a McDonald’s and other businesses near the Sugar River Plaza, forcing a supermarket to close for the day.

The plaza sits in a flood plain and floods frequently, although only rarely does the water rise as high as it did on Thursday night. Dr. Frank Benenati, who has owned and operated a dental practice in the plaza since 1997, said that this was the worst flooding that he has seen since 2004.

“This came as more of a surprise,” Benenati said. “There was so much rain in July.”

A muddy skim covered his floor Friday morning, but the water had receded. He and his employees propped the door open as they brought furniture outside to dry out. The machinery on dentist chairs has to be close to the ground so that they can be lowered easily, which makes them especially vulnerable to flooding.

“Two out of four of those chairs are cooked,” Benenati said. “We’re just a little gobsmacked.”

The other businesses in the plaza were also beginning the cleanup. Shaw’s was closed for the day, while Aubuchon Hardware served customers from the door as more than a dozen employees vacuumed, cleaned and disposed of ruined products. The manager at McDonald’s said she hoped to be open again by 4 p.m., and Sugar River Pharmacy continued to serve customers. The Mobil gas station was also hard-hit; on Friday morning, cleanup crews tended to the underground gas tanks while employees pulled soggy snacks off of low shelves.

Claremont firefighters said they sent a rescue boat to Newport to help with a water rescue there. Two people and their dog were evacuated from a mobile home in Newport with help of a boat, WMUR-TV reported, and firefighters used a ladder truck to rescue some residents of a home near Route 10 in Goshen, N.H.

Down the road from Northstar at Crow’s Nest Campground, owners Stephen and Heather Gallagher evacuated 39 people who had set up tents and campsites along the Sugar River after the fire department called and warned that the river would surge. Heather Gallagher said the campers didn’t have time to gather all of their possessions or take down their tents.

Members of the Newport road crew at Coon Brook Road said the road would be fixed on Friday.

Yannuzzi said that there were minor wash-outs throughout town.

“With the speed of the storm and the amount of water that was dropped, it was a classic example of a flash flood,” Yannuzzi said.

“Everyone came out of this safe. Nobody got hurt. When you’re asked to evacuate, it needs to be taken seriously.”

When asked if his department had had trouble with the evacuations, Yannuzzi paused, then replied, “Live free or die, you know?”

Meanwhile, at least six roads were closed in Charlestown — Pecor Road, Lamb Road, Meany Road, South Hemlock and Hackett Swamp.

Jennifer Clark, a library assistant at the Silsby Free Public Library in Charlestown, said she saw several washouts as she drove along Acworth Road to get to her job Friday morning.

“The culverts are out, and some people are trapped” and couldn’t leave their property, she said.

Town officials said they hoped to have all roads open by the end of the day Saturday.

“Highway is out and doing the best that they can,” said Jessica Dennis, administrator to the Charlestown Selectboard.

The heavy rains forced Vermont State Police to partially close Interstate 91 Thursday night between Westminster and Putney, and several roads and culverts in Putney were washed out. The interstate lanes were cleared and fully reopened around 1:40 a.m. Friday.

At the Northstar campground Friday morning, Cindy Stone and her friends assessed the damage.

Campers, trucks and cars lay totaled. The mud on the floors and walls of campers showed that it had climbed as much as a foot high inside. By morning, though, the Sugar River had already retreated, leaving the gravel from Coon Brook Road strewn across the grass. The flood had so much force that it had driven the radiator of one of the trucks right into the engine and deposited a fully made air mattress 40 feet away.

“It’s funny what we’re finding and where we’re finding them,” said Stone, who kept her spirits up through the crisis. “We all got out safely.”

When asked whether her group would be coming back next year, Stone had no intention of letting a flash flood spoil tradition.

“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” she said. “We’ve done it too many years not to.”

John Gregg contributed to this report. Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.




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