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Sun returns, flood damage tallied in Northeast

The skies finally cleared Thursday after four days of rain, just in time for federal officials to start assessing storm and flood damage around the Northeast.
Spring Storm Flooding
This neighborhood in in Lowell, Mass., was flooded Wednesday and families had been forced to flee a day earlier. Stephan Savoia / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The skies finally cleared Thursday after four days of rain, just in time for federal officials to start assessing storm and flood damage around the Northeast.

Communities from New Jersey to Maine were still coping with stream flooding after the storm dumped more than 8 inches of rain in places, along with coastal flooding brought on by high tides and heavy surf.

Eighteen deaths were blamed on the weather system, including a woman whose body was pulled from a New Jersey river on Wednesday.

The regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to tour Allenstown, N.H., with Gov. John Lynch. Meanwhile, about 6,000 residents evacuated from their homes were still unable to return.

Early estimates indicate the state should have little trouble reaching the $1.5 million threshold required for federal assistance.

The floods were receding, but some roads were still covered with water and others were waiting on repairs.

The state's largest electric utility, Public Service Company of New Hampshire, said only 1,800 customers were still without power Thursday morning. Public Service expected to complete repairs by the end of the day, except for a few homes in Pittsfield and Barnstead that could not be reached due to road damage and 30 customers in Epsom whose homes were evacuated.

The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative still had about 3,000 without power, mostly in the Plymouth area and the western part of the state. The company hoped to have the lights back on by Friday night, but said customers in Lyme and Canaan may have to wait until Saturday.

Thousands of residents in Raymond and surrounding towns who lost landline phone service could have to wait more than a week before it is restored, after Verizon's central switching station flooded.

However, company spokeswoman Jill Wurm said full cell phone service would be restored to the town by midday Thursday after Verizon brings in a portable tower.

Fears that dams in Hollis and Newmarket might be breached were also eased as safety officials worked to slowly ease water pressure behind the dams. In Hollis, a dozen families living below the 19th-century Hayden Mill Pond dam were evacuated Tuesday, and National Guard troops closed part of Route 122 as a precaution; the route was re-opened Wednesday night.

In Newmarket, safety officials were concerned about the Richmond Dam after parts of the bank eroded during the storm, but water levels were receding Wednesday. About 1,000 residents were evacuated there.

Five smaller dams were breached by the storm, in Nottingham, Rochester, Newmarket, Hollis and Derry, but related damage was minimal. Damage was also reported to the seawall at Hampton Beach.

Town officials in Milford urged residents to conserve water until further notice. Town wells were off-line and were expected to remain that way for several days. The town was using Pennichuck Waterworks to supply water. The concern was for quantity and pressure until the town supply can be restored, officials said.

Maine deaths, damage
The storm took no lives in New Hampshire, but a 4-year-old girl from Manchester was killed Monday when she and her grandmother were swept away in fast-moving water in Maine. That state reported two other deaths as well.

Maine Gov. John Baldacci has also requested a federal disaster declaration to free up federal money for the cleanup.

After a two-hour helicopter flight over flood-damaged areas of southern Maine, Baldacci said the Patriot's Day storm had left a "scar" on large parts of the state.

In seeking a disaster declaration, Baldacci said early estimates based on partial reports from only four of Maine's 16 counties set damage to public property and infrastructure at more than $11 million. He indicated that damage to private property would also be high.

"There are still tremendous amounts of water in people's backyards," Baldacci said. "We've gotten reports of some 200 homes whose foundations have been impacted just in Wells."

In Sanford, officials were called to a home Wednesday afternoon where a 56-year-old man died, apparently from fumes from a power generator, said Fire Chief Raymond Parent. The victim, whose name was not released, had lost power in his home on Monday, the chief said.

By Thursday morning, Central Maine Power Co. said an estimated 19,700 residences and businesses were without power, down from a peak of 127,585. Bangor Hydro-Electric had reduced its outages to a dozen.

Line crews from Massachusetts, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia arrived Wednesday to help CMP, which said customers should be back on line by late Friday.

Efforts to set a dollar figure on the storm damage were just beginning.

Without providing numbers, officials said damage in York County will exceed that of last May's storms that washed out bridges and roads and damaged hundreds of businesses and homes. Baldacci said the damage was clearly above the threshold needed to receive federal assistance.

Road and bridge conditions were improving as waters began leveling off and receding, said John Stanley of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

The Maine Department of Transportation has identified about 30 bridges with storm-related problems, mainly washed-out approaches, but a number of roads and bridges hadn't been assessed because they were still under water, he said.

Amtrak's Downeaster, which runs between Portland and Boston, resumed service on Thursday after canceling runs for three straight days.