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New Hampshire receives federal disaster declaration for mid-July flooding

Flooded road closed off with traffic cones
Swanzey Fire Department
/
Flooding closed off Carlton Road in Swanzey, NH during the mid-July storms.

President Joe Biden approved a major disaster designation this week for flooding that impacted communities in New Hampshire in mid-July.

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The declaration of a major disaster is an important step in the process of receiving public assistance funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Impacted communities in Cheshire County will now be able to submit requests for public assistance to address damages caused by the floods.

Some may also be able to use the money to make their infrastructure more resilient to hazards in the future, said Fallon Reed, section chief for preparedness, mitigation and recovery with New Hampshire’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

“Let’s say we have a culvert that got washed out and has been a problem in the past and was damaged in this storm. There is a high likelihood that we’ll look at mitigation opportunities to either increase that culvert or do some repairs that will prevent it from happening in the future," she said.

The declaration also opens up federal funding that could be used for hazard mitigation efforts for non-damaged infrastructure across the state, Reed said.

Access the funds is a lengthy process, Reed said. The Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will set up applicant briefings for communities that experienced damages. Funds are available on a cost-sharing basis.

In mid-September, Gov. Chris Sununu wrote a letter to President Biden requesting the major disaster declaration be issued for storms and flooding that caused infrastructure damage across southern New Hampshire.

Cheshire County, where damages totaled over two million dollars, met the necessary threshold for the entire state to request a major disaster declaration, according to the governor’s letter.

That much damage in a small county like Cheshire was significant, said Fallon Reed said. Managing the damage was beyond the capacity of local and state resources.

According to Sununu’s letter, water washed out infrastructure in 14 communities during the peak of the floods. Jaffrey, Keene, Richmond, and Fitzwilliam sustained the most damage eligible for public assistance, and eight communities activated their Emergency Operations Centers during the incident. State-owned roads also experienced significant damage.

Todd Croteau, superintendent of highways and facilities for the town of Jaffrey, said his team had to postpone planned projects to focus on repairing damage from the flooding. His community has been impacted more intensely by snow and rain in recent years, he said.

“The climate’s definitely changing, the weather events that we have are not like we’ve ever experienced in the past,” he said.

The storms that caused the flooding were part of record-breaking precipitation this July, according to the National Weather Service. It’s difficult to associate weather events directly with climate change, but scientists say that the changing climate will make the Northeast hotter and wetter, and will increase the occurrence of extreme weather.

Another declaration request from the state for flooding in late July and early August addresses more than $3 million in damages in Cheshire and Sullivan counties, according to Reed.

She anticipates that the actual cost after the disaster is declared, will be more significant.

The request has been submitted to President Biden and FEMA. It is still under review.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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