Storm Response Assessed

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By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, June 9, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

HAMPTON -- Hampton Fire Chief Hank Lipe acknowledged that the situation could have - and should have - been handled better during the heavy rains and flooding which caused major headaches for Hampton residents last month.

Speaking from the podium during the public comment portion of Monday night's selectmen's meeting, Chief Lipe addressed an audience which included a number of residents from Taylor River Estates.

That particular neighborhood appeared to bear the brunt of nature's wrath when rising flood waters flowed over a nearby culvert and dam during the storm that hit the Seacoast around Mother's Day, causing extensive property damage in many instances.

Residents were forced to deal with an emergency situation as well as with what they said was a lack of assistance from officials at both the local and state level.

Chief Lipe's conciliatory comments appeared to strike a positive chord with several of those in the audience, who offered a round of applause on his behalf.

Sitting before the board earlier in the meeting, the fire chief was joined by Hampton Police Chief Jamie Sullivan and Doug Mellin, operations manager for the town's public works department.

In the three weeks or so since the storm, Chief Sullivan said, assessments were made on what was done well and done poorly, upon reviewing the phone calls the police department had logged over a particularly rainy three-day period.

"We probably could have done better getting back to some folks," he acknowledged, noting that communication between state and local agencies could have been better as well. "There's room for improvement."

Chief Lipe told selectmen that he was "proud to report that all calls [to HFD] were handled in a timely, professional manner." He emphasized the positive ("no one was injured, no one died") even though "a lot of property took a hit." He reiterated that there could have been "a better job of communicating between thee three departments."

Mellin said DPW personnel "have to be congratulated for their efforts" during the stormy weather. "We had sand and we had the bags available" for those who needed to make sandbags to protect their property. "It was a group effort and we did as much as we could."

"I know every department did an incredible job," said Selectman Bill Lally.

"You guys all did a good job," echoed Selectman Ben Moore. "No complaints here."

Questions do remain, however, regarding the efficiency - or possible lack thereof - of the culvert located off I-95 near Taylor River Estates. Town Manager James Barrington noted that the state maintains there was no blockage of the culvert ("The culvert flowed the entire time," he said), though the dam itself "did overflow." The general consensus appeared to be that further communication with the state is needed on the matter.

Additionally, those concerned seemed to agree that the entire situation was a learning experience, and that efforts to communicate on all levels should be streamlined in the event that similar emergency situations arise. In the meantime, federal disaster assistance is available (see related article) for those who were hard-hit by the May storms.

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