by Peter Riviere
The clock at the Bank of New Hampshire was stuck at 3:13 p.m., the precise time heaven's fury cut loose on Littleton and many other parts of the North Country, as a quick-moving line of electrical storms rushed through the area, crippling Littleton, closing off roads and shutting down power to thousands of consumers.
In front of the Eagles fraternal club, a huge tree lay across powerlines, blocking westbound Union Street traffic, while down on Main Street, a store's awning lay askew, wedged between the storefront and a lightpost at the curb.
Elsewhere, residents assessed the damage as hundreds of trees, limbs and branches crashed onto lawns, across driveways and into the roadway. One huge tree nearly cut off access to Mann's Hill with a small pathway cleared through, large enough for bicycle riders checking out the fallen behemoth.
Upward of 25 to 30 trees were downed along Mann's Hill and street lights were reported laying in the streets of the Whitcomb Woods area of town.
"Everyone was out at one time or another," said Steve Costa, Littleton Water and Light Department's operations manager, noting the Light Department has about 3,500 metered customers in the town.
"Our first priority was to get the hospital back up and running," he said. That was accomplished about three hours after the initial storm struck with high winds, slanting downpours and hail reported.
All this was transpiring as newshounds watched Hurricane Bonnie edge her way north along the Atlantic seaboard.
"We've cleared the highline in from Moore Station," continued Costa about Littleton's problems, "so we could power up our substations. Public works has had its crews out clearing roadways, with most open about 7:30 p.m. Now we'll regroup and they'll join our crews as we go out to rebuild individual lines and restore service."
A line crew was coming in from Burlignton to assist the Littleton crews. Public Service of New Hampshire, which was experiencing its own outage problems, had crews reporting in to assist from outside the area as well.
At the PSNH Manchester control center, a recorded message listed towns throughout the company's statewide service area experiencing outages, but Elizabeth Larocque said the North Country, serviced by the Lancaster office, "got hammered the worst," with extensive line damage, snapped utility poles caused by abrupt, heavy winds, the result of the quickly advancing storm.
She said that of the 100 line crews the company employs statewide, 35 were deployed in the Lancaster and Chocurua offices. Additional crews were being dispatched to assist with the cleanup and restoration effort.
Department of Transportation crews were busy clearing roadways of fallen limbs and cautioning drivers away from downed power lines.
At one point, North Littleton Road, or Route 135 to Dalton, was closed due to the dangerous condition as was Maplewood Hollow Road - Route 142.
Crews expected to be out much of the night restoring power with intermittent storm centers striking the area until midnight.