Town of Alstead releases book about flood

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(Host) A little over a year ago the Connecticut Valley town of Alstead, New Hampshire, was ravaged by a flood that killed four people.

About 50 families lost their homes when a wall of water roared through the town’s main valley.

Now the local historical society, with help from almost everyone in town, has put together a book about the catastrophe.

VPR’s Susan Keese has the story behind the book, Too Much Water, Too Much Rain.

(Keese) The cover of this illustrated coffee-table volume shows a man sitting on a boulder in the middle of a road that’s been churned to rubble.

What you don’t see is the empty space he’s staring into. Hours earlier, a house was there and a couple dozen vehicles and a cinderblock repair shop where everyone in Alstead had their cars fixed.

(Leonard) “There was absolutely nothing except rock after the flood went through. This man is trying to comprehend something that I feel we are still trying to comprehend a year later. It’s very difficult to take in.”

(Keese) Lark Leonard is the recording secretary of the Alstead historical society and a driving force behind the book.

Early on historical society members decided to piece together the story of that rainy October weekend and its aftermath. Society member David Moody says there were plenty of floods that year, including Hurricane Katrina.

(Moody) “But this was a particularly personal story of how a community came together, worked together with a great deal of outside help. It seemed to be something that one would want to have for your children and grandchildren as a reminder of what happened and how the town responded to it.”

(Keese) With a grant from the History Channel, the group enlisted high school students to collect oral histories. Ian Relihan is now a senior at Fall Mountain Regional High School.

(Relihan) “Even the people who lost everything seemed fairly willing to tell their story. It must have been hard for them. But I think it was probably a good thing to do because you can’t hold the emotion of losing everything you’ve known without telling anyone.”

(Keese) Relihan was one of three student editors who wove the stories into a narrative and sorted through more than 6,000 donated photos.

(Leonard) “And it’s very compelling reading. Most people can’t put this book down once they begin it.”

(Keese) Lark Leonard tells the story of a man from out of town who narrowly escaped. He was driving up the valley as the culvert was giving way.

(Leonard) ‘David Crosby was coming down the road, our road agent. And he yelled stop!’ There’s a flood wave coming. And this young man kept going only a little ways and he saw the water with trailers and houses and such in it. The man jumped out of his car and ran up the edge of the slope and immediately the wave just picked up his car and took it with it.”

(Keese) A woman and her daughter who decided not to leave were swept downstream, house and all. The daughter’s bedroom was torn right off. Leonard reads from her story.

(Leonard reading) “I have no concept of moving. The noise was deafening, just deafening, huge, huge roar. The kitchen door was blowing out right in front of me “

(Keese) Elsewhere in the book, the woman’s grandchild says it was all right, because the flood went away. The book is full of comments by children, and also drawings they made.

In fact, the book’s title comes from young Alexandra Kershowitz who was in kindergarten at the time. When asked exactly what a flood was, she answered Too much water, too much rain.’

Ian Relihan, who’s off to college next year, was most impressed by the way everyone came together: the National Guard, the state, The Salvation Army with its hot meals, and especially the people of Alstead.

(Relihan) “There were spots of panic afterwards. But mostly people showed that they had the right stuff to get through this.”

(Keese) And that, he says, is extremely reassuring.

For Vermont public radio, I’m Susan Keese.

Note: The book is published by Publishing Works of Exeter and is in bookstores now.

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