For 36 hours it was intense for Rye during flood

Fire Department, Public Works and Police combine to respond to calls, trouble spots

Jack Driscoll

Photo by Judy Underwood, Rye Reflections

Independence Farm on Washington Road mirrors the calm after the storm.

The mid-May flood lasted for several days, but the make-or-break period in Rye stretched out over 36 soaking hours.

It all started around midnight on Saturday night (May 13)," said Fire Chief Rich O'Brien.  "By 7 a.m. it really started to get intense."

The Fire Department received 153 calls during the memorable rainstorm that raised flood havoc throughout the region, especially along the Merrimack and Concord Rivers in Mass. and New Hampshire as well as in the nearby communities of Newmarket and York, Maine.

Meanwhile, the Public Works Department crew of nine was working around the clock, mostly trying to keep essential roads open, while the Police Department was jumping in to handle some of the emergency calls and posting personnel at certain road detours.

Photo by Judy Underwood, Rye Reflections

It was indeed Hard Times for just about everyone on Lang Road.

Speaking of his team of nine, Public Worlks Director Bud Jordan said, "They did a helluva job."  And echoing the sentiments of O'Brien and others, Jordan said, "They deserve appreciation, because they had their own personal problems, such as flooded cellars, but they put the public's needs first."

Jordan said there were many trouble spots around town, but "what we have to do is consider the repercussions of what we do before we do it."  Most of those decisions had to do with possible detours, of which there had to be many.  They also concerned dealing with small bridges, such as on Love Lane or adjacent to Mill Pond on Central Road.  So much for the Mothers’ Day celebration at the Abenaqui Country Club.

Chief O'Brien said his drivers had to be creative to get to certain parts of town. The Fire Department was mainly concerned with basement flooding that was "encroaching on electrical and heating equipment".  O’Brien said the firefighters had to give priority to calls that made reference to sparks or certain smells that might indicate danger.

Photo by Jack Driscoll, Rye Reflections

Entrance to Gray Court off Route 1A blends into Rye Beach store parking lot.

An immediate hazard occurred "right in the middle" of the highest storm activity when "an oil tank ruptured on Ocean Boulevard."  That required an immediate response.

It was also on Ocean Boulevard where the Fire Department ran into the worst house flooding, causing one family to evacuate voluntarily when water penetrated the first floor of the home.

The Red Cross also was pitching in, delivering flood cleanup kits to individual homes and making a batch of them available at the Emergency Management Operation set up Sunday morning at fire headquarters.  Colleen Fitzpatrick, director of Emergency Services, said, “most of the problems in Rye were right along the seacoast.”  (Kits still may be obtained by calling the Great Bay chapter’s Newington office at 603-766-5440.  For other Red Cross relief services call 1-866-GET-INFO).

Photo by Judy Underwood, Rye Reflections

For a time you could look into Rye but not drive through on Lang Road.

Jordan said his operation benefited from the fact that all his men were "senior" and knew all the streets and potential "tender spots" from having plowed through the years.  "They knew where to go and what to do," said Jordan. Even after the five days of rain, Public Works had storm-related work to complete.  "It'll take 20 truckloads just to repair broken-away pavement," he said.

The Fire Department has only two pumps, which are reserved for emergency situations.  Homes with normal cellar flooding, of which there were dozens and dozens, had to rely on their own pumps or commercial companies.

When the crisis period had pretty much passed, Alan Gould, wearing his Emergency Management Director's hat, approved the pumping out of the Douglas Circle area off Huntervale Avenue.

Photo by Jack Driscoll, Rye Reflections

Jenness Road was double trouble--at entrance from 1A and in middle.

"It was like a bowl," said Gould, describing the three feet of standing water. Pumping from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday (May 23) drew off "in the ballpark of 500,000 to 750,000 gallons of water," Chief O'Brien said.

But O’Brien’s most vivid recollection was inside the fire station.  "We would call in a truck from time to time to give the crew something to eat.  After 15 or 20 minutes, they would say, ‘OK, give us the next one.’  And off they would go. They were amazing."

Photo by Judy Underwood, Rye Reflections

Scene from Beach Club parking lot:  Sea Road (to left) and 1A (to right).

June, 2006