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Power expected to be restored in NH by weekend

By Norma Love

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30 2012 11:41 a.m. MDT

The high tide floods streets, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 from the effects of Hurricane Sandy in Hampton, N.H. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.

Jim Cole, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. — A construction worker checking a job site in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy was swept to his death by a landslide Tuesday in Lincoln as utility crews elsewhere worked to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers across the state.

After peaking at about 210,000, the number of outages had dropped to about 164,500 by Tuesday afternoon, and officials said all should be resolved by Saturday. Utilities were still assessing the damage Tuesday, but most outages appeared to be caused by downed lines, not topped poles that take longer to fix, said Public Utilities Commission Chairwoman Amy Ignatius.

In Lincoln, Police Chief Theodore Smith said police were notified just before 8:30 a.m. about the fatal accident involving a construction crew checking on a home foundation they had been building.

The victim, whose identity hasn't been released, was standing on an embankment when it collapsed.

"The embankment gave way and turned into a landslide of mud, rock and all the water that was in the hole," Smith said. "It washed him down the equivalent of a 2-3 story incline."

Other members of the construction crew pulled him out of the debris and started CPR, but he was declared dead in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Smith said.

The National Weather Service recorded gusts Monday evening of 60 mph in Portsmouth, 62 mph in Londonderry and 76 mph at the Isle of Shoals, 6 miles off the coast. Forecasters said rainfall could reach 4 inches. Mount Washington recorded a peak wind gust of 140 mph.

In Windham, a powerful gust caused a tree to fall on a vehicle Monday evening, leaving a man critically injured. Windham police were unable to provide details.

It was the fourth worst storm in terms of power outages in state history. The worst was in December 2008 when an ice storm knocked out electricity to 422,000 homes and businesses, Ignatius said. A wind storm in February 2010 affected 360,000 customers and last October's snowstorm cut power to 315,000.

Some were without power for more than a week as a result of those storms, not the five or six days predicted for Sandy during relatively warm weather with temperatures in the 60s forecast for Tuesday.

In Durham, downed trees left residents along a stretch of Durham Point Road stranded, though one resident said she and her neighbors were taking it in stride. Katie Delahaye Paine, who runs a public relations firm from her Durham home and an office in Berlin, said was relieved to find out that her 94-year-old cousin who lives down the road was at a rehab center and not at home and that other neighbors also had checked on him.

"It's very sort of classic New Hampshire — people sitting there saying, 'If I could just get a bulldozer onto that tree, I could get it out of the way," she said. "Great neighborhood spirit."

The road also was humming with the noise of power generators, she said.

"Five years ago, you'd go for a run or walk the morning after a storm and it would be deadly quiet. Now, there's a generator at every single house," said Paine, who fired hers up to power her refrigerator, coffee pot and computer.

"The disruption is that it's kind of like this is the nerve center for the area — I've got friends over who were rescued from Kittery Point — so the only disruption is the fact that we're probably having too much fun," she said. "It's hard to get any work done."

In Manchester, Nancy Crowley's power went out around 9 p.m. Monday. The only surprise was that it stayed on as long as it did.

"We've been very consistently hit every time, so I was expecting it much earlier," said Crowley, 43. "I was a little deflated when the power went out."

Her family bought a generator after last October's snowstorm left them in the dark for nine days.

"But it does interrupt my routine because I turn it off at night — we have birds, and I'm afraid of leaving a generator on with birds and children in the house," she said.

Gov. John Lynch said Sandy did not cause the extensive and damaging flooding of past storms, but comparisons don't matter much to those people who are without electricity.

"It's still pretty significant to them," he said.

Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement said about three dozen state roads and over 200 municipal roads were closed as of Tuesday morning, mostly due to uprooted trees and branches. He said once utility crews clear out live wires, the roads can be opened quickly, perhaps within a couple days.

Lynch has asked President Barack Obama to issue an emergency disaster declaration for all 10 counties. State officials urged local government officials to keep records of any spending to aid in getting reimbursed.

Five shelters opened Monday, but Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas said only 57 people went to the shelters and of those, only 43 spent the night in them.

Environmental Services Commissioner Tom Burack said only minor flooding was expected from North Country rivers, but that could change depending on how much more rain the state gets. A flood warning was in effect for central New Hampshire Tuesday and a flood watch was in effect for Coos County.

About a half-dozen homes along the Peabody River in Gorham were evacuated after officials got a flash-flood warning about 1:50 a.m. Tuesday.

The storm swept away plans by the presidential campaigns to hold events in New Hampshire, but the lull in campaigning for state offices resumed Tuesday. And former President Bill Clinton was expected to return to campaign this week for President Obama.

Ignatius said polling places should be open with power and telephone lines on Election Day.

At the Children's Museum of New Hampshire, the phone started ringing early Tuesday morning as parents looked for alternatives to spending the day at home with their children and no power. There was a line waiting at the door when the museum opened at 10 a.m., said marketing director Heidi Duncanson.

"A lot of people definitely wanted to get out of the house," she said.

Associated Press writer Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.

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