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No stranger to flooding, region wrings itself out
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This weekend wasn’t Peter Hartz’s first experience with flooding.

The past few days have marked the third time in his 28 years living on Brook Street in East Keene that he’s dealt with water entering his home due to a storm. Even so, he wasn’t too worried, with the nearby Beaver Brook seeming to stay level.

“We woke up [Sunday] with 3 inches of water in the basement. Not a big deal, thinking it’ll go down,” he said Monday. “... But this morning, I woke up, and the water level had gone up. Now it’s 6 or 7 inches deep, and I think I may have lost my water heater.”

Soaked

Hartz’s was just one local household of many that were affected by a slow-moving storm that dumped more than 5 inches of rain — nearly 8 inches in some areas — over the Monadnock Region between Saturday and Sunday.

Roadways, yards, basements and parking lots flooded in communities in New Hampshire and Vermont. Emergency-response personnel reported a high volume of calls on Sunday but said things had begun to calm down by Monday morning.

In his own home, Hartz said any damage from this weekend’s storm is less flooding than in years past. The other two times, he’s had to replace most of his basement appliances, such as his washer, dryer and furnace, as well as his electrical panel.

Nevertheless, he said this doesn’t make the flooding any easier to deal with.

“We still don’t have hot water,” Hartz said late Monday afternoon. “I will have to call the gas company; it’s going to be expensive.”

Also in East Keene, at least one resident on Boston Place — a dead-end road off Baker Street — chose to be evacuated due to flooding.

Randy and Barbara Beaton, who have lived on the road for 20 years, stayed put, though they still had to deal with the fallout of the bad weather.

“I checked the basement and backyard at like 3:30 in the morning [on Sunday], and the backyard was a small pond in the lower part, and the basement had not a drop,” Barbara Beaton said. “And then I woke up at 6, and it was bad.”

Like Hartz, this is the couple’s third time dealing with flooding. Randy Beaton said their “entire backyard” was submerged, and there was 2 inches of water in the basement Sunday.

By the next morning, the Beatons had vacuumed up most of the water. Some items were destroyed, the couple said, but nothing of significance.

Keene Fire Chief Mark Howard said his department responded to about 50 calls on Sunday, more than 20 of which were service calls related to flooding, including basements.

Most road-related damage was along the sides of roadways, according to Howard, who said Monday morning that the city’s Public Works Department was working to address those issues. He added that he wasn’t aware of any “catastrophic damage” on city streets.

Over the course of the storm and its immediate aftermath, Howard said at least two Keene residents were evacuated from their homes: one on Wetmore Street, where a building had 6 feet of water in its basement near an electrical panel, and the home on Boston Place, where the resident opted to evacuate.

Howard said there may have been a second person on Boston Place who also chose to evacuate, but he wasn’t certain of this.

Though Barbara Beaton said the flooding her family dealt with is nothing compared to what neighbors experienced, it’s still frustrating.

“We just really feel the city needs to look at this end, the East Side, not just our street,” she said. “It’s happening too often.”

Jaffrey, which was one of the hardest hit towns in the Monadnock Region with more than 7 inches of rain, was also still dealing with flooding early Monday, according to a news release from Town Manager Jon Frederick. Crews managed to open most town roads with at least one lane for traffic before Sunday evening, the release says, and work was underway Monday to restore all of them fully.

The one road that remained closed was Sawtelle Road, which was damaged, along with a culvert that failed, and will need to be replaced.

“Town staff are working with bridge engineers to [effect] an emergency replacement of the damaged culverts,” the release says.

Winchester was also hit hard by the storm, leading to the evacuation of five homes on Old Westport Road, according to Fire Chief Barry Kellom.

Power was cut to buildings between 80 and 144 Main St., he said, and would remain off until the water recedes. The area was still under water as of Monday afternoon, and the extent of the damage won’t be known until the water goes down, he said.

The parking lot at Kulick’s Market had been flooded since overnight Sunday into Monday morning, according to Kellom. Volunteers arrived with sandbags to help keep the water from damaging the businesses in the area.

“We’ve been monitoring it,” Kellom said. “It’s not rising, but it’s not going down either.”

He said the fire department had responded to about 20 flooded basements since the storm started. But he wasn’t aware of any significant structural damage to any buildings.

Though no one had needed it by Monday afternoon, Winchester set up a shelter at the ELMM Community Center on Durkee Street, according to N.H. Rep. Jennifer Rhodes, who lives in town and also represents Swanzey, Troy and Marlborough. She said those evacuated from Old Westport Road were able to stay with friends or family.

Aubuchon Hardware on Warwick Road in Winchester closed Monday due to “severe flooding,” it announced in a Facebook post. Aubuchon staff couldn’t be reached Tuesday morning for more information on the closure.

Swanzey saw significant flooding, but made it through with minimal damage, said town Public Works Director Joe DiRusso. As in Keene, he said, the bulk of problems were road related, specifically road shoulders where water had eroded the pavement.

DiRusso said Swanzey crews were out doing an inventory of roads on Monday morning, now that the water had receded sufficiently in most places to get a better look. As of that time, he said the only street in Swanzey still closed was Carlton Road, which needs repair work that is expected to be completed over the next few days.

“Within a week, we hope to be back to where we were before the storm,” he said. Other damaged roads had already been repaired and reopened, he said.

A handful of homes in Swanzey required assistance from the fire department to pump out their basements, according to Fire Chief Bill Gould. However, only one home needed to be evacuated, which took place around midnight between Sunday and Monday when the Swanzey and Keene fire departments helped rescue three adults and a dog from a house surrounded by water on Causeway Road.

Gould also noted that there had been some damage to state roads, and he wasn’t sure whether the town would have to request FEMA assistance.

Officials from the N.H. Department of Safety’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management office have been in contact with representatives from each community affected by the flooding and will review damage assessments over the next few days, according to agency spokeswoman Vanessa Palange.

Palange said the state must have at least $2 million in damages to be eligible for federal disaster relief. If that threshold is reached, she said Gov. Chris Sununu would likely request that President Joe Biden issue a major disaster declaration, releasing funds for individual aid and infrastructure repairs.

State officials are working with local communities to “make sure they have access to the resources they need as they recover from the flooding,” Palange said Tuesday morning.

On the eastern end of the Monadnock Region, Fire Chief Ed Walker said Peterborough will also be facing some road repairs in the months ahead. While he said only a handful of people called for assistance with flooding at their homes, a number of roads washed out due to the rain.

There was also some damage to culverts that will need to be addressed, including one that blew out on Old Jaffrey Road.

The biggest concern is Old Town Farm Road, where flooding not only temporarily stranded 18 families on the dead-end street over the weekend but also damaged the road enough to effectively make it one lane. Walker said “it will be weeks” before the roadway is restored.

This happened because the ground became saturated very quickly, and instead of being absorbed, the excess rainwater ran downhill, which Walker said undermined the road’s integrity.

“Old Town Farm Road is going to be huge,” he said. “There’s 200 feet of roadway where the lane is missing.”

Meanwhile, back in Keene, Gina Kovacs of Woodburn Street had flooding in her partially finished basement. About 4 inches accumulated there over the weekend, ruining a few area rugs.

“Yesterday was spent trying to find another [submersible] pump, which was hard because even Home Depot had nothing yesterday,” Kovacs said Monday. “We got the fans and a dehumidifier, and it’s coming along.”

As of Monday morning, she said she wasn’t sure how significant the damage will be to her foundation or other items in the basement. And like the Beatons and Hartz, she said this isn’t her first go-around with flooding issues in her home of 17 years.

“It’s a nuisance,” Kovacs said.

She added that she stayed home from work Monday to keep an eye on the basement, worried that her sump pump may stop working or that more flooding would occur.

“I heard the rain last night,” she said, “and I now understand how people have PTSD.”


Local
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Keene man killed in WWII to be honored during ceremony in Japan
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A week from Tuesday, a small group will gather in southwestern Japan, near the site where an American B-29 bomber crashed exactly 76 years earlier in the waning days of World War II.

They’ll come together to remember the 12 crew members on that plane, all of whom died either in the crash or as prisoners before the war officially ended about a month later.

One of those men, Frederick Allen Stearns, grew up in Keene and spent childhood summers at Camp Takodah in Richmond. The son of two local teachers, Stearns, who went by his middle name, graduated from Keene High School in 1943, and joined the U.S. Army Air Forces that fall. After his plane, B-29 #42-94098, was shot down near Omuta, Japan, on July 27, 1945, Stearns and six other crew members on the plane parachuted to the ground. All of them were illegally executed before Japan surrendered on Aug. 15.

For Stearns’ nephew Tim Francis — a U.S. Navy historian who in 2019 cowrote the stories of the 12 Takodah campers who died in World War II with Graeme Noseworthy, president of the camp’s board of directors — the ceremony holds special significance.

“Here are some contemporary Japanese people who are acknowledging this past experience of the war, and yet how we have since turned that around and become very close allies,” said Francis, a Silver Spring, Md., resident who holds a Ph.D. in military history from the University of Maryland. “... So, it’s sort of a good-news story, I think, about how well things have turned out over the course of all these decades. And I just like being able to be a part of communicating that story.”

Neither Francis nor Noseworthy, a Leominster, Mass., resident, knew about the ceremony until a few weeks ago. Heather Buchanan, the granddaughter of one of Stearns’ fellow B-29 crew members, contacted them through the Camp Takodah website about three or four months ago, Francis said. She found the site while researching a book she plans to write on her grandfather Charles Appleby’s plane crew and ultimately connected Francis with Donald Langford.

Langford, a retired Santa Clarita, Calif., resident, started in 2017 researching B-29s that were shot down near the end of World War II, beginning with his cousin’s husband’s plane. While researching that aircraft, Langford found a group of Japanese people led by Hiroyuki Fukao, who were looking for information on the same plane and its flight crew.

In 2018, Langford traveled to Japan for a memorial service for the B-29 crew that sparked his research interest and has continued to assist Fukao with subsequent ceremonies.

“When Mr. Fukao wants to try to find people [related to Americans killed in World War II], he gets a hold of me,” Langford said in a phone interview Monday. “… So that’s what I’ve been doing on and off since then for five or six memorials that they’ve done.”

These memorials, Langford said, seek to foster further international peace and cooperation.

“What he said is he believes what he’s doing will hopefully keep the friendship going between the two countries,” Langford said of Fukao’s work.

Fukao organized a memorial service for the crew of Stearns’ B-29 about a year ago, Langford said, but at the time he had been unable to track down any living relatives of the men who died. This year, though, he’s been able to contact family members for seven of the 12 crew members on the plane, all of whom are sending a written reflection that will be read at the ceremony.

And while Francis said it’s too late for him, or anyone else connected to Stearns, to be able to attend the ceremony this year, he hopes to travel to Japan next year, if another memorial service is held.

In the meantime, Francis said the upcoming memorial service, and his connection with Buchanan, who is working on the book about his uncle’s crew, have reignited his and Noseworthy’s research. Their work had essentially paused after they presented their findings on the Takodah campers at a ceremony in Richmond in 2019.

“In general, after the ceremony at Camp Takodah at the end of June 2019, we took a break while we were waiting for more information to come from the National Archives, particularly some of the personnel records,” Francis said. “... And then, of course, the pandemic hit, and that has essentially delayed getting any material from the National Archives.”

Now, though, Francis said he and Noseworthy are talking about working with Buchanan to tell the stories of the men who died alongside his uncle.

“Maybe we now tell the story of the plane crew, which is a whole different group of people [than the Takodah campers] and a whole different group of families that will want to know as much as they can, that we can find answers for them,” Francis said.

For that, he added, he could return to initial research on his uncle’s story, which ultimately led to a 1997 article published in the Pacific Historical Review. When Noseworthy began researching the 12 Takodah campers who died in World War II, he came across that article, leading him to contact Francis and the two to become research partners.

And regardless of the direction it takes, both Francis and Noseworthy say they’ll continue their research.

“The work is continuing. We did the ceremony in 2019, but we didn’t have every story at that point,” Noseworthy said. “We’re still discovering new stuff. … The men, their stories are still being discovered 70, 80 years later.”


Education
NH Board of Education approves interim rules for school vouchers

New Hampshire’s State Board of Education approved an interim set of rules for its new “education freedom accounts” Thursday, bringing the Granite State a step closer to implementing one of the most sweeping school voucher-like programs in the United States.

In a unanimous vote, the board approved the rules, which seek to flesh out the statute passed by the Legislature in the state budget. The rules passed with little discussion.

Under the new law, parents will be able to use state education funds — which would normally follow a child to their public school — for other educational expenses, including private school tuition and homeschooling costs.

The statute provides qualifying parents at least $3,700 a year, and more if the student qualifies for additional state aid. The money is available to lower-income parents who have withdrawn their children from public schools or whose children never attended public schools to begin with.

Fifteen states have similar programs, with many using a voucher system to direct state funds to schools. But New Hampshire’s program provides parents a uniquely broad number of areas for where the money is spent.

Thursday’s rules sought to clarify areas the statute left vague, including how the accounts must be run and how they must be held accountable.

The rules allow a nonprofit scholarship organization that contracts with the state to choose the educational providers to which parents may send their money — from private schools to religious schools to online education, tutoring, classroom materials and books, and laptops.

And the rules dictate exactly how much information the organizations must report to the Department of Education, and what measures the organization must take to root out abuse of the program, either from families or education providers.

Because the rules are being passed on an interim basis, they will not receive a public hearing and will last only six months. They’ll come before the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules — the panel of senators and representatives who approve agency regulations — later this summer.

The program is set to launch Aug. 27 — just ahead of the 2021-2022 school year.

But the Department of Education is finalizing a permanent set of rules that will receive a public hearing in the coming months.

Separately Thursday, the state’s education commissioner confirmed that the Department of Education expects to be contracting with just one organization to administer the savings accounts: the N.H. Children’s Scholarship Fund.

“There’s one scholarship organization that we’re going to be contracting with initially,” Commissioner Frank Edelblut told state board members.

The contract will go before the Executive Council later this summer, with a goal of having the contract approved before the end of August.

“Once a contract is in place, then the scholarship organization is able to start to sign up those service providers,” Edelblut added.

The N.H. Children’s Scholarship Fund, which is part of a national network based in New York, is one of two organizations that oversee the state’s existing scholarship fund, which allows businesses to receive tax credits for donating to a fund that provides scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.

The second scholarship organization, the Concord-based Giving and Going Alliance, has not expressed interest in helping run the program, Edelblut said.


Wapo
Going further than CDC, pediatricians group recommends masks in schools even for the vaccinated

The nation’s leading association of pediatricians released new, highly anticipated COVID-19 guidance for schools reopening this fall, recommending that everyone over the age of 2 wear masks, even if they are vaccinated against the virus — a more cautious approach than recent federal directives.

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for in-person learning to fully resume and said universal masking should be part of a “layered approach to make school safe for all students, teachers and staff.”

The organization’s updated guidelines come at a time of heightened uncertainty about the pandemic in the United States, and they have added to the ongoing debate over best practices for combating the coronavirus, which is spreading at its fastest rate in more than two months.

“We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers — and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely,” Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, said in a statement. “Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone.”

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its guidance, saying that vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks while in school buildings. However, the agency added that unvaccinated students and staff should still wear masks and that school districts should look to local virus trends to determine whether to ease or strengthen their measures.

Since the rapid spread of the coronavirus shuttered schools in early 2020, childhood education policies have been at the center of some of the nation’s fiercest political debates. And they have become a flash point once again, as the highly contagious delta variant has taken hold, causing the seven-day average of new coronavirus infections to soar by nearly 70 percent in just one week.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said he trusts the AAP and the group’s recommendations are reasonable.

“They will not be popular amongst parents and kids who are sick of masks, but you know what? The virus doesn’t care that we’re sick of masks,” Collins said Monday in an interview with MSNBC. “The virus is having another version of its wonderful party for itself. And to the degree that we can squash that by doing something that maybe is a little uncomfortable, a little inconvenient ... if it looks like it’s going to help, put the mask back on for a while.”

Because children under 12 are still ineligible for coronavirus vaccines, student populations are likely to be far less vaccinated than their greater communities — a major factor in the AAP guidelines. As of Monday, just 36 percent of Americans ages 12 to 17 had received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post.

Overall vaccine uptake has also slowed significantly, with the number of doses administered nationally dropping by 9 percent in the past week, down to some of the lowest levels seen since the campaign’s early days.

The country’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said the unevenness of inoculation is one reason universal masking could be necessary.

“When you have a degree of viral dynamics in the community and you have a substantial proportion of the population that is unvaccinated, that you really want to go the extra step, the extra mile, to make sure that there is not a lot of transmission, even breakthrough infections, among vaccinated individuals,” Fauci said in an appearance on CNN.

But all the competing guidance can be confusing, Fauci said.

Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor at George Washington University, has been among the public health experts to criticize the CDC’s recent guideline shifts. On Monday, she said the federal agency should follow the AAP’s lead.

“CDC needs to change their guidance too,” Wen said on Twitter. “If there is no proof of vaccination, and vaccinated & unvaccinated people are mixing, indoor masking need to be required.”

At least eight states, including Texas and Arizona, have already banned mask mandates in schools.

Announcing the prohibition in May, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said the state “can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”

Meanwhile, some of the largest school districts in the country have said they plan to require universal masking. Among them, the state of California, New York City and Detroit, whose superintendent said everyone would wear a mask inside unless they are in a room where everyone is vaccinated.


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