Seacoast is Battered by Raging Nor'easter

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$4 Million in Damage Estimated by Officials

By Ann L. Moore

Hampton Union, Friday, February 10, 1978

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

See a photo gallery of the storm

The third disastrous high tide in two days pounded Hampton Beach Wednesday noon. At North Beach, storm-driven waves gushed water 50 feet into the air against the sea wall. Pieces of the steel wall torn away by the previous high tides were scattered on Ocean Boulevard. Many cottages were damaged or swept away by the waves. [Photo by Ralph Morang]

HAMPTON -- Up to $4 million worth of damage to public and private property is estimated to this seacoast town as the result of the high seas and wind driven snow which savaged the coast on Monday and Tuesday, February 6 and 7.

The estimate came, Thursday morning, from Hampton's Civil Defense Director William Gillick. He said the damage to roadways through erosion, the seawall on the north beach, and other private property may run to $4 million. He stressed the estimate is a ballpark figure but a minimum of $2 million in damage is certain.

The storm began late Monday and continued through Wednesday night causing evacuation of about 900 people from the beach area, Gillick said. Some people found shelter with friends and relatives. Other evacuees, some from out-of-state who were trapped by the storm, were housed at Hampton Academy Junior High. There were 200 people, 14 dogs and eight cats housed at the school Tuesday and Wednesday, officials said. Food was donated by area merchants and prepared by the Marston school cafeteria staff. The Red Cross brought in food, also.

Evacuees who could not return to their homes or find other shelter by Wednesday night were housed at the fire station on Ashworth Avenue. Precinct Commissioner Diana LaMontagne said 20 people were fed and housed at the station Wednesday night.

The National Guard, which had come in to assist in the emergency on Tuesday, was pulled out at 8 a.m. on Thursday. State police personnel moved in to the area to assist local police in maintaining security for homes and businesses which were heavily damaged by the storm.

Hardest hit in Hampton was the area of the north beach called Plaice Cove Area. Homes in Plaice Cove got the full force of wind whipped seas and parts of homes were torn away. There were no injuries or deaths reported by town officials as a result of the storm.

The Hampton Union spoke to Town Manager Peter Lombardi, Fire Chief Howard Stickney and Police Chief Robert Picucci concerning the storm and its rampage through the town on Tuesday.

Director of the Department of Public Works, George Hardardt, declared a state of storm emergency in effect at the selectmen's meeting on Monday night at 8:33 p.m. Selectmen adjourned the meeting and a storm effort went into full swing.

Police and fire department manning was increased at once and by Tuesday morning all firefighters, regular and call personnel, were called to duty, Stickney said.

Police officers and police specials were also on duty by 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, Picucci said.

The evacuation effort was handled by the Hampton fire fighters through Tuesday morning until help arrived from the Portsmouth contingent of the National Guard under Captain Glen Curry. Boats to help in the evacuation were donated by several local citizens, the N.H. Fish and Game Department and the Portsmouth Navy Yard.

Communications equipment in the fire department on Ashworth Avenue were nearly lost when a snowbank on Brown Avenue gave way under the water pressure built up in the marsh and water poured into the fire station. The communications console was operated from an auxiliary unit on the second floor, Stickney said. Water poured in, in a matter of 10 minutes, Stickney said, and some medical supplies and records stored on the ground floor, were lost.

The fire department lost all the alarm lines at one point but service was gradually restored, Stickney said.

Police officers put the radio communications console up on benches as water up to two feet in depth swept through the police building on Ashworth Avenue next to the fire station. No records or equipment were lost at the police department, Picucci said on Wednesday afternoon.

Stickney and Picucci said no major injuries to police officers or fire fighters was reported. Men "got soaked" and all were near exhaustion, the chiefs said, but they continued on duty through the storm. Manning at both departments was near normal on Thursday morning.

Lombardi noted that while police and fire departments had the benefit of help from special officers and call firefighters, the public works crews and private contractors who were fighting the snowstorm, had no such help. Lombardi said the snow removal crews deserved the highest of praise for keeping emergency arteries open.

The two chiefs said the citizens were most helpful, in general. Both noted that sightseers hampered emergency equipment. The fire engines were immersed in salt water, Stickney said and major work will have to be done to get them back in shape. The Maynard is housed in the precinct garage after "dying" on duty Wednesday, Stickney said. Lombardi said a citizen has donated use of a power hot water wash for the engines and other apparatus. He said he hopes the high pressure wash will limit equipment damage. Stickney said salt water in the air brakes will be weeks drying out.

Telephone lines were affected by water, leaving just one line at the police headquarters which could be used for outgoing calls. Incoming telephone lines remained operative. The single outgoing line was left open to the town offices where a back-up emergency station was set up, according to Lombardi.

"When I think of what happened in this storm," Lombardi told The Hampton Union, "I am amazed we didn't lose the emergency system entirely. The fire and police should be off the beach for the safety and benefit of the citizenry."

Chief Stickney agreed with Lombardi saying the water and winds have nearly knocked out the communications systems several times in recent years. He cited this storm, the storm two weeks ago, two storms in 1972 and a storm in 1969 when communications were nearly lost.

Stickney said it's apparent, now, that phone lines to the fire and police departments are affected in every storm where water is a problem.

Firefighters battled through water and snow, braving storm whipped waves along Ocean Boulevard to rescue people trapped by rising waters. People were evacuated during high tides at 11 a.m. through the daylight hours into the night when another high tide deluged the coast at about 11 p.m. Rescue efforts were hampered by danger from arcing wires and water damaged electric connections in buildings. Two fires were fought during the storm, one on the Seabrook side of the bridge another on the Thornton Street.

Chief Picucci and other town officials gave high praise to members of the North Hampton CB Club, also known as Seacoast ReEACT, for their help during the storm. Picucci said the CBers manned road blocks on roads leading from town to the beach, thereby relieving police officers for rescue duty. "They were a tremendous help," Picucci said.

The Hampton Fire Department ambulance, Number 38, was in a collision with a National Guard truck on Landing Road by Tide Mill Road, and was severely damaged, Stickney said, Ambulances were sent in from Exeter Fire Department, Exeter EMT and Rockingham Ambulance Service. The two firefighters driving the ambulance and two Guardsmen were treated and released at Exeter hospital.

Lombardi said the wind had driven snow into vents in the roof of the town offices and there were leaks in the ceiling of the second floor of the offices on Wednesday.

Cost of the storm, Lombardi said, would be awhile being assessed. Overtime, cost of equipment repair, snow removal and other costs will take time to assess.

Hampton's Harbormaster, Fred Clews Jr., said there was minimal damage to the harbor area. He remarked that the Smith & Gilmore pier had buckled under the storm's fury. One boat appears to have been damaged. Clews said a 40 foot boat, "Sea Harvester" was pulled from its mooring on the Seabrook side of the harbor and smashed onto rocks, otherwise there were no casualties. The new state pier survived the storm.

The men on the Seabrook Station sea platform were evacuated in anticipation of the storm, according to Frank Kotowski of Public Service Co. A "watch crew" stayed on the platform and rode out the storm without mishap.

Lombardi and the department heads said the interdepartmental cooperation was "marvelous." They mentioned the Sheriff's department, state police, the National Guard, Coast Guard, the Fish & Game Department and other private and public people deserved high praise for their cooperation during evacuation and relief efforts.

Deputy Chief Robert Mark and Sergeant John Nickerson, who were on duty at the beach police station during the storm, were singled out by Picucci for praise. Mark said the calls for help were coming in so fast the police log of activity could not be kept up with the activity.

Evacuation was over at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday night.

Residents and emergency vehicles and essential personnel were allowed into the beach area on Wednesday. The roadblocks were lifted and the beach opened at 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, police said.

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