'Huge wall of water'

"Nobody has ever seen anything like this in this area."

BY HEATHER MOYER | ALSTEAD, N.H. | October 11, 2005

Twisted metal, blue tarps and empty lots remain after a powerful Christmas Day tornado tore through Volusia County. (DNN photo by Heather Moyer)
Credit: Disaster News Network

"Nobody has ever seen anything like this in this area," said Myrna Harrington of Alstead's Third Congregational Church, describing flood damage in her small town.

The small Cheshire County town was hit hard by the flooding, which Harrington said was unlike any other minor spring flooding experienced there before. "A huge culvert on the other side of town backed up and then gave way, and then a huge wall of water washed down over the city. One home after another was taken. Mobile homes were taken and carried across the roads."

Third Congregational Church is now serving as the official American Red Cross shelter for Alstead. Harrington said a good many of the church's parishioners were affected by the flood, and many are now homeless - and even landless. Many people saw their homes plus the land beneath and around them just completely wash away.

Some also have harrowing tales of the wall of water that came through town.

"One lady said rescuers didn't get to her home to warn her in time and she watched that wall of water from her attic," said Harrington. "She said it was like a little tsunami. It's amazing her house is still there, all the others around it are gone."

A spokesman for the New Hampshire Bureau of Emergency Management (NHBEM) said damage assessments are just now beginning as the water recedes. There is no estimate of how many homes were damaged or washed away yet. "We're just making incremental progress right now," said Jim Van Dongen, spokesperson for NHBEM. "We're getting power restored in one area where it was out in large numbers. But we're in this for the long-term."

Van Dongen added that the state is seeking a disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. National Guard troops have been activated and are assisting in communities like Alstead. More than 50 roads suffered severe damage from the floods and several crucial bridges washed out as well.

Many other small towns like Alstead suffered damage, including Marlow, Walpole and Acworth. High water flooded into bigger cities like Keene, too. Aerial photos of the city show entire neighborhoods surrounded by water.

"We had many parishioners affected, but it was mostly very flooded basements," said the Rev. Sue Phillips of Keene's Unitarian Universalist Church. "Fortunately none suffered physical harm, just home damage."

The flooding did provide a glimpse into everyone's vulnerability, she added. "We're much more vulnerable than we think, and this was an experience in that. I've spoken to a number of parishioners who are experiencing that vulnerability and their own fragility. I think that's a good thing - especially if it compels us to greater compassion."

Phillips said her church is helping provide volunteers for the Red Cross relief work in the city, but they are open to helping in the long-term if needed as well. The congregation has even offered its facilities to the local synagogue, which had a severely flooded basement.

Over at Trinity Lutheran Church, parishioners are dealing with similar home damage and the Rev. Jim Barry is looking back at the sermon he gave two weeks ago. After Hurricane Katrina, he preached on making sure people are being prepared spiritually for a disaster.

"Looks like God prepared us for this in advance," he said.

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