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Latest round of flooding prompts road closures and rescues across northern NH

Parts of Coos and Grafton counties are still recovering after Wednesday night’s thunderstorms that flooded many main roads, including Route 135. 

Firefighters and town officials have been surveying the aftermath in several communities, including Dalton, Littleton, Whitefield and Lancaster. State officials say they're working with local communities to assist with the recovery.

In Dalton, fire chief Ron Sheltry said almost every road in town is washed out.

“We’re in the process of still making as many of them as we can passible,” he said.

Sheltry said they are not able to reach roads closest to neighboring Littleton, and the Littleton Fire Department is working with them to cover those areas. He said they received a couple of calls for civilian rescues — due to cars getting stuck in the flood waters — but they were able to get everyone out safely and no one sustained any injuries.

The floods have also affected power lines in Dalton, and electricity is down for a lot of homes. Sheltry said the fire department has been making sure they check on people, and making sure they have access to safe water. He says they have had to supply water to a lot of people who have lost power already.

 “We anticipate a long repair process to put everything back,” he said.

Next door in Littleton, the fire department performed multiple home and car rescues as water streamed over eroded roads. At one point, officials said, 20 people were stranded at the Littleton Walmart when flooding made the road impassable.

For the latest on road closures in your area, check New England 511.

A portion of Fox Ridge Road in Littleton.
Littleton Fire Rescue
A portion of Fox Ridge Road in Littleton.

Littleton Fire Chief Chad Miller said the flooding was historic — with multiple areas on Route 135 and its side roads, from Monroe to Lancaster, washed out after the storm.

“I would check before traveling anywhere in this area – Monroe, Dalton, Whitefield, Lancaster, and on the other side of the Connecticut River in Vermont,” he said Thursday morning. “Most of our major roads in and out of town are closed.”

Miller advised people to avoid local roads, follow traffic signs and be prepared to change their plans if they encounter a flooded area.

“Most of the issues we had last night were vehicles that were driving across flooded roadways with eroded roads underneath them that gave way, causing their vehicles to sink even further,” he said.

In Monroe, fire officials said the Connecticut river breached roads overnight, and they recommend people in the area stay put as they assess and clear the streets. Officials later told NHPR 13 miles of local roads were affected by the floods. The town brought in contractors from the state and volunteers to help fix damages. 

Catherine Forbes, who runs NEK Vapor, a vape shop with locations in Vermont and New Hampshire, said she was still looking at photographs and trying to understand what happened Thursday afternoon.

"It’s terrible," Forbes said. "There’s half roads washed out, rivers going through towns that you can’t even that weren’t there before. Bridges are gone."

Forbes said people used the parking lot at her store in Lyndonville, Vermont, as a starting place to kayak down Main Street. Her store in Littleton fared alright, but she says the washed out roads there caused issues for plenty of others.

Erosion on Monroe Rd. in Littleton after Wednesday night's downpour.
Littleton Fire Rescue
Erosion on Monroe Road in Littleton after Wednesday night's downpour.

At Smokin T’s Bar and Grill in Lancaster, bartender Jackson Dupont said he was taking out the trash around 7:30 Wednesday night when he noticed five inches of water outside of the restaurant and in the lot where employees park.

"You could just see the water running right down the sidewalk," he said. "It was kind of wild."

His commute home to Littleton usually takes about half an hour, but he said it tripled on Wednesday because of road closures.

Even on Thursday, he said some of his friends were still stuck at home because their driveways were washed out. But Dupont said he appreciates the town workers who are trying to clean up the roads and keep people safe.

This week’s flooding is the latest in a line of extreme storms in recent months, which have repeatedly battered local roads and public infrastructure.

Intense rain events are becoming more common around the country, as humans continue to release climate-polluting emissions, according to the latest national climate assessment. Researchers say extreme precipitation events have increased more significantly in the Northeast – about 60% since the 1950s.

As the water receded Thursday, Miller said some roads in Littleton were still closed — and 15 or 20 residents were still cut off from the rest of the community due to the damage. 

He said this storm was worse than others in recent memory. And as climate change brings stronger rainfall, he sees flooding becoming more of a problem. 

"We have to change the way that our infrastructure is sized, scoped and built to support the changes that we've seen," Miller said.

Updated: July 11, 2024 at 4:51 PM EDT
This story was updated with additional perspectives from people impacted by the flooding.
Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
Sadaf Tokhi is a rising senior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she is studying journalism and sociology. She's written for the school's newspaper, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, and has reported for the campus radio station, WMUA 91.1.
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