Irene has enough power to knock out power across Seacoast

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Storm caused outages, downed limbs but was not as severe on Seacoast

By Staff Reports

Hampton Union, August 30, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]
Braving Tropical Storm Irene on Sunday on the north wall of Hampton Beach are, from left, Matty Pigott, 12, Johnny Pigott, 12, and Jospeph Kelly, 13, all of Arlington, Mass. Portsmouth Herald Photo: Cheryl Senter

Tropical Storm Irene weakened early but lingered long and caused additional damage throughout the night along the Seacoast on Sunday.

Still, while the storm hit hard, Irene was not the knockout punch many were expecting.

As of 3:20 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29, Unitil reported 2,200 customers without electricity along the New Hampshire Seacoast and warned it would be "beyond Monday" before crews restored power.

On Monday afternoon Public Service of New Hampshire reported 78,000 customers powerless throughout the state. PSNH also predicted days-long recovery.

In coastal towns such as Rye and Hampton, the biggest concern was people venturing into the water. Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh warned emergency responders would not be able to enter dangerous waters to rescue someone swept out to sea, and several area chiefs suggested staying out of the ocean until at least Tuesday.

Many students gearing up for a return to school were afforded one more day of summer vacation. Freshmen did not have to report to Winnacunnet High School until Tuesday. Similarly, the North Hampton School in North Hampton postponed its opening until Tuesday and pupils who attend SAU 16, which serves Exeter, Brentwood, East Kingston, Kensington, Newfields and Stratham, gained another vacation day. Newmarket also postponed its first day of school.

Throughout Sunday, police, firefighters and public works crews in every Seacoast community were ready to go if things got out of hand, but even though Irene brought gusts of more than 60 mph, most local towns escaped the heaviest damage as the tropical storm veered off to the west.

Despite the mass outages, those who chose to brave the elements Sunday said they were unimpressed by Irene's relative lack of power.

"We're a little disappointed. I'd like some action," said Rory Trahan, a Portsmouth resident who stopped at Coat of Arms Pub on Fleet Street for lunch and drinks with friends.

Jonathan Vogel, also of Portsmouth, said the group intended to have a "hurricane party" with friends, but he thought it would be anticlimactic after seeing Irene's impact.

All across the Seacoast, there were twigs and leaves down on roads and sidewalks. Some communities, such as Durham, were hit harder, while others, such as Portsmouth, sustained almost no damage.

Hampton and North Hampton made it out of the storm relatively unscathed, unlike the western portion of the state. The towns experienced no major flooding and as of Monday morning, electric power had been restored to most residents.

Hampton Police Chief Jamie Sullivan said on Monday there were roughly 800 residents without power, or 7 percent of Unitil's customers in Hampton.

The power outages were caused by felled trees on power lines, affecting customers in the North Shore and Landing areas.

"But given what was predicted, I think we fared well," Sullivan said.

There were no major issues with tidal flooding and Hampton Beach was reopened Monday, he said. Lifeguards, however, did block off a small section of the beach around Church Street due to riptides. Also, swimmers were told to only go to knee-deep in the water.

Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver said officials did open Winnacunnet High School on Sunday as a temporary shelter but no one took advantage of it.

"At least here, it was the storm that wasn't," Silver said.

In Seabrook, things were "fairly quiet," according to Seabrook Emergency Management Director Joseph Titone. There were only two reports of power outages, one involving a transformer on in Hampton Falls that resulted in a power loss to Route 1 businesses in Seabrook close to that area.

No major incidents occurred on the beach, which was closed for swimming but open for those wanting to walk the sand, Titone said.

While the Community Center on Route 1 had been designated an emergency shelter, there were no residents who needed to take advantage of that service, according to Titone.

"We came out of this pretty well," he said.

Titone said there were about a half dozen conference calls between Seabrook and the state, with Gov. Lynch on the line. In addition, all Seabrook department heads collaborated three times a day for updated information.

Deputy Fire Chief Everett Strangman said things were fairly routine as far as his department was concerned, since the effects of the storm in this region were far less serious than predicted. Similar comments were voiced by Seabrook Police Lt. Michael Gallagher, who said his department had no incidents related to the storm other than the Route 1 power outage at the north end of town.

In North Hampton, all roads had been reopened by Monday, with public works crews still busy cleaning up debris. Officials in that town are encouraging residents with debris on their property to bring it to the Cherry Road facility on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

North Hampton State Beach remained closed Monday as officials deemed it unsafe due to significant riptides.

In Hampton Falls, Fire Chief Jay Lord assessed the storm and its effects.

"We planned the hell for this storm and we got nothing," he said on Monday morning. "And I'm glad we did, because we'll be ready for next time."

Even though Irene packed far less of a punch for the Seacoast area as compared to other regions around New England, Lord acknowledged there was the potential for some major damage to occur.

"Knowing what I know, we were going to get hammered. This storm was barreling toward us," he said. "We got lucky at the last second. The damage this area got could have been a lot worse ... Otherwise," said Lord, "we're in good shape. We fared very well in this storm. We didn't have a lot of calls, and there were no calls for flooding."

He estimated he received about a dozen calls, mostly from residents reporting downed wires and trees.

Hampton Falls residents apparently took seriously the hurricane warnings and prepared for the storm in advance; there were no emergency calls for medical issues.

"There's little stuff her and there, but again, this storm did not do what was advertised," he said. "I will pre-plan like this every time now, because the more we do ahead of time, the less we have to do afterward. I'll be more than happy to do that every time."

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