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Water rescues, flooded roads and a near record on the Saco: NH surveys the fallout from Monday's storm

Communities across New Hampshire are continuing to assess flood damage, after heavy rain and winds pummeled the region Monday. Some roads are still flooded, and officials are urging people to seek alternate routes rather than trying to drive through.

Kevin Pierce, deputy fire chief in Plymouth, said his team performed one water rescue on someone trapped in their car Tuesday morning and responded to multiple calls from people whose vehicles were stuck in water.

“Several, and I mean several, just disobeyed the road cones, went around them, the blockades, and moved them to drive through the road anyways and got trapped in the water,” Pierce said.

Temperatures reached record highs on Monday in New Hampshire. Jon Palmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said rivers rose after melted snowpack combined with an unusual amount of rainfall.

“A storm system like this really melts the snow really quickly,” Palmer said. “The additional 6 to 12 inches of snow on the ground that we’ve had in the White Mountains definitely contributed to extreme river rises in New Hampshire.”

Hermit Lake in the White Mountains recorded more than 8 inches of precipitation during Monday's storm. The town of Jackson saw more than 6 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

The Saco River in Conway flooded to near-record levels during the storm. According to the National Weather Service, the river crested at 17.71 feet around 8:15 p.m. Monday. That's the second-highest level on record — and higher than the levels seen during Hurricane Irene in 2011.

The New Hampshire National Guard and other emergency responders helped rescue several people by helicopter from flooding near that same river Monday night.

Officials with New Hampshire Fish and Game said they learned people were stranded in three homes near the Saco River around 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Flooding prevented local fire and rescue workers from reaching the area, but a team from White Mountain Swift Water Rescue kayaked in and made contact with the people who were stranded.

Officials said the National Guard was able to airlift four people from two homes, but they weren’t able to reach the third home due to a downed power line. A water rescue team was eventually able to reach that home and rescue the person inside. All of the people affected were taken to an emergency shelter in North Conway.

Flooded street and gas station
Jackie Harris
Flooding on Route 175A in Plymouth Tuesday, December 19.

In the Plymouth area, emergency officials said things were largely returning to normal by Tuesday afternoon, though several roads remained closed due to flooding. Some also said this week’s storm brought back memories of Hurricane Irene.

Nick Mason, who manages rental properties for students in Plymouth, said one of his buildings was damaged by the flood — though he was luckier than some of his neighbors, whose basements were breached.

“The whole property is covered with silt and leaves and debris and muck,” Mason said.

In nearby Campton, where some residents were evacuated as a precaution, the town put up about 10 people in a hotel overnight. Everyone has since returned to their home, according to the local fire chief.

Beech Hill Road in Campton was still closed as of Tuesday afternoon after a culvert washed out, but other roads in town had reopened.

Campton-Thornton Fire Rescue Chief Daniel Defosses said Tuesday that it was pretty much back to business as usual.

“We're kind of in a cleanup mode,” he said, as fire gear hung drying on clotheslines in the back of the station.

Defosses said some basements were flooded, but there didn’t seem to be extensive damage to homes.

Mad River Coffee House in Campton closed early on Monday at the request of emergency officials, who were also evacuating residents of a nearby mobile home park.

The cafe was spared any flood damage and reopened Tuesday. But owner Dave Levin said the floods’ impacts, along with the lack of snow, could still affect local businesses that cater to visiting skiers.

“We're waiting to see what happens with tourist traffic over the next holiday week and how that's affected,” he said.

A number of schools were closed Tuesday in the aftermath of Monday's storm. Many of those were in the White Mountain region, including the Gorham school district.

Gorham Superintendent David Backler said no school buildings were damaged, though one of the district’s elementary schools — in Milan — lost power for a few hours on Monday and didn’t have a backup generator. And many students across the district went home early Monday, because roads were beginning to flood.

The decision to close Tuesday was meant to give staff, families and road crews some needed time to recover, Backler said.

“A lot of our secondary roads are still needing work,” Backler said. “And then a lot of staff needed to work on their basements, or a lot of people had to go, you know, get out of their houses last night.”

Backler said the school is used to taking off for snow days, but this is their first flood-related closure in recent memory. (Though he said Gorham also saw flooding last year during the holiday break, which would have likely caused them to cancel school.)

Gov. Chris Sununu’s office says state officials are working to assess if Monday's storms will trigger potential federal aid. His office also said preparations are underway for him to tour damaged areas once waters recede more completely.

On Tuesday, a Sununu spokesman said the governor remained in constant communication with state and local emergency management officials about the flooding and whether to deploy the National Guard.

Sununu issued few storm related statements during the height of the storm, instead elevating other state emergency advisories. But he did do several national media interviews and social media posts on Monday, talking up his endorsement of Nikki Haley in New Hampshire’s upcoming Republican presidential primary.

NHPR reporters Jackie Harris, Paul Cuno-Booth, Sarah Gibson and Josh Rogers contributed reporting.

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