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Major disaster declaration opens federal assistance to NH communities affected by December flooding

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

Federal assistance will become available to communities in Coos, Grafton and Carroll counties for damage they sustained during flooding in December, after President Joe Biden made a major disaster declaration this week.

A preliminary assessment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed the state sustained more than $2.5 million in damage from the December storm, though in his request to the President, Gov. Chris Sununu said that overall costs were significantly higher.

In the request, Sununu said the storm that began Dec. 17 cut residents off from emergency services, destroyed homes, washed out roads and bridges, and created issues for first responders as they tried to help residents.

A major disaster declaration opens up programs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency that can reimburse towns for repairs, and help implement measures that could mitigate damage in the future.

Read about the town of Acworth’s experience with flooding and FEMA assistance

The state’s request for the declaration says 25 people in Conway and 10 people in Gorham were displaced as a result of damage to their homes from the storm.

Almost 100 people have requested individual assistance through the state’s 211 system, but Sununu’s request says that impacts were not severe enough across the state to enable officials to request that FEMA’s Individual Assistance program be opened to residents. That program would have provided disaster case management, crisis counseling, legal services, and other assistance.

New Hampshire has nine other active disasters being managed through FEMA, going back to 2017. All of those disasters are flooding related except for one – the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2023, the state received a disaster declaration for flooding in July. Sununu also requested disaster declarations for a snowstorm in March and flooding in late April and early May, but those requests were denied, according to his February letter to the President.

Extreme precipitation events have increased about 60% in the Northeast since the 1950s, as humans continue to emit greenhouse gasses and the climate changes.

December 2023 was the fifth wettest December in New Hampshire since record keeping began in 1895. 2023 was the 12th wettest year.

"This disaster declaration provides the opportunity for those communities that experienced extensive damage from the severe storm to recuperate costs incurred while fixing damages," Sununu said in a press release. "The state will continue to work with officials in all three counties to utilize relief funding as quickly and efficiently as possible."

State officials say they will reach out to communities to explain how to apply for assistance.

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