N.H. Grapples with Worst Flood in Decades; Lives, Homes, Businesses Lost

October 11, 2005

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, joined by state emergency officials, today toured communities devastated by flooding from this weekend’s rains.

“This weekend’s floods devastated a number of our communities. Right now, our people need help, and I am committed to getting them the help they need as quickly as possible,” Lynch said.

Lynch met with local officials in Keene, Hinsdale, Walpole, and Alstead, and with Department of Transportation officials in Swanzey.

At least three New Hampshire residents lost their lives to the floods and more are still missing. In addition to damaging homes, businesses and cars, the rains washed out roads and downed bridges across the southwestern part of the state.

Lynch toured a neighborhood in Keene that suffered severe flooding. He visited Hinsdale, which lost one of its main bridges. He also toured Alstead, which lost one bridge and suffered significant damage to another. The community also lost at least 12 homes and is littered with massive amounts of debris.

“Seeing it up close, you get a full appreciation for the devastation that these storms created,” Lynch said. “Neighborhoods in Hinsdale and Alstead are cut off from the rest of their communities. In Hinsdale I saw the remains of a house sitting next to the remains of a bridge. In Alstead a landmark gas station had disappeared along with the bridge it sat next to. Cars from the station had been scattered across the area by the flood. I am going to use every state resource possible to help these towns recover.”

The state has asked for a federal disaster declaration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to begin the assessment promptly.

Since the storm began early Sunday morning, the state’s Emergency Operation Center has been manned around the clock to provide services to the citizens of affected communities. The state has provided generators, communications equipment, jersey barriers and, in cooperation with the Red Cross, food and water. The National Guard has also been mobilized to assist with recovery efforts.

The New Hampshire Insurance Department has put together an emergency licensing system for adjusters deployed to handle claims from rains that flooded the southwestern part of the state over last wekend.

Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny has ordered a streamlining of the licensing process in the event quick licensing is needed. He said he was concerned that the forces of adjusters might be thin given Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and wanted to be sure there were no hurdles that would slow the response of adjusters in getting to the scene of the floods.

“We are available to assist in any way we can,” he told Insurance Journal.

But the role of his department is limited. His department does not regulate the federal government’s flood insurance program but it is ready to serve as a resource for the public during this emergency.

Damages asessments are underway, with millions of dolllars in losses expected. National flood program adjusters were reportedly on site Tuesday and working with those who had flood insurance coverage. But most do not have the coverage, according to insurance agents.

The worst flooding was in Keene, where some major roads were under as much as 4 to 6 feet of water, fire officials said. Keene Fire Chief Gary Lamoureaux estimated 30 to 40 percent of the downtown area was under water. Keene State College canceled classes.

About 500 people in Keene were evacuated, and about 150 were staying at a shelter. In nearby Stoddard, residents were also told to leave.

The village of Alstead just northeast of Keene, with a population of a only few thousand, was hit hard. Ten residents of the village are still missing. A number of homes were completely destroyed. The police station along with its emergency equipment was among the properties under water.

Keene is home to major operations for two insurers, Peerless Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Regional Agency Company network, as well as Main Street America Group and its National Grange Mutual parent company. Both companies were open for business.

According to Mark Friedlander, spokesperson for MSA Group, its operations are “up and running” and its facilities were free from major damage. All employees have been accounted for, although a number did suffer damage to their homes. At least one employee’s home was “completely devastated,” he said. MSA Group has more than 600 employees at its Keene location.

Sevigny said that the claims from the floods are unlikely by themselves to cause New Hampshire homeowners’ premiums to go up, although he cautioned that the combination of storms that have hit the nation could mean insurers will have to pay more for reinsurance and end up passing that cost along.

The floodwaters are receding. But with rain in the forecast for the next several days, the National Weather Service warned that dams in nearby Stoddard, Alstead and Bradford could fail.

The Emergency Operations Center will remain open to assist communities affected by the flooding, monitor the weather and water levels over the coming days and plan for the possibility of additional rains.

“We are concerned that additional rains could cause further damage,” said Lynch. “We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”

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