Heavy Rains Force Eastern U.S. Evacuations; Four Lives Lost

By | October 11, 2005

Prolonged, heavy rain caused flooding from North Carolina to New Hampshire over the weekend, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate, knocking out electricity, weakening dams and making roads impassable.

At least four people died, including two people killed in New Hampshire when a car apparently drove off a washed-out bridge into flood waters, officials said Sunday. A fifth person was missing and feared dead.

Gov. John Lynch returned from Europe to take charge of relief efforts in New Hampshire. He declared a state of emergency and called in 500 National Guard members for assistance.

“This is the worst damage they’ve seen from flooding in 25 years in New Hampshire,” the governor said Sunday night.

By Monday, the floodwaters were receding in some areas. But with rain in the forecast for the next several days, the National Weather Service warned that dams in Stoddard, Alstead and Bradford could fail.

The two New Hampshire residents who died in the car were identified as Steven Day, of Unity, and Ashley Gate, of Claremont, both 20, state police said. A kayaker on New Hampshire’s North Branch River was feared dead after he was washed away while clinging to a tree as rescue workers tried to reach him.

In Pennsylvania, state police said Tiffany Wieand, 19, of Milford Township died Saturday when she tried to drive through a flooded roadway and lost control of her car. The vehicle slid into a guardrail, flipped onto its side and was submerged under the bridge, trapping her inside, police said.

In Allentown, two boys were rescued from Cedar Creek on Saturday after their inflatable raft overturned. Firefighters tossed the boys, who were clinging to a small tree, a pair of life jackets, and then pulled them to safety with a rope.

In New Jersey, 2-year-old Shane Belluardo of Tobyhanna, Pa., died from head injuries Saturday after his parents’ car lost control on eastbound Interstate 80 in Knowlton, and he slid beneath the wheels of a passing dump truck, according to state Police Sgt. Steven Jones.

Eight-foot-high flood waters from the Ramapo River caused officials in New Jersey’s Bergen County to evacuate about 30 residents Saturday night and early Sunday, Mayor John Szabo said. Rain also knocked out electricity to as many as 6,000 utility customers across the state.

In Vermont, more than 200 people, including residents of a Brattleboro senior citizen home, were evacuated Saturday night.

And in North Carolina, Gov. Mike Easley warned residents to stay away from swollen rivers and creeks, already high from Hurricane Ophelia last month. The state’s Department of Transportation reported 41 roads closed because of flooding.

The National Weather Service reported that more than 5 inches of rain fell in Wilmington, N.C., on Saturday. North Carolina’sBrunswick and Pender counties saw between 7 and 10 inches of rain in four days. Allentown, Pa., received 10 inches between Friday and Saturday.

“They didn’t predict this much rain,” said Joan Kinney, mayor of Boiling Spring Lakes, N.C., which unofficially measured more than 15 inches of rain. “It took us all by surprise.”

The most severe flooding in New Hampshire 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 Monday classes and told out-of-town students to stay away.

About 500 people were evacuated, and about 150 were staying at a shelter in a recreation center Sunday. In nearby Stoddard, residents were also told to leave. Officials heard reports that houses washed into rivers, dams were breached and bridges in several communities were washed out.

In Alstead, N.H., firefighters made a dramatic rescue when they tied a rope to Capt. Don Martin, who braved debris-filled floodwaters to retrieve three people stranded in a home that appeared ready to be washed away by floodwaters.

Martin had to make the trip back and forth through the rising and rushing water three times. Each time he surrendered his rescue belt, secured a resident to the rope, held onto a loop in the rope and signaled the crew 200 feet away to start pulling.

The residents, a couple and a man in their 50s or 60s, were not hurt.

“I fell into one ditch that had to be at least 4 feet deep,” Martin said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Editor’s note: See related story in East news.

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