October nor’easter wreaks havoc

MERRIMACK – Robert and Jane Pauley suffered through the winds and rain of Tropical Storm Irene on their way back to New Hampshire in September. But it wasn’t until they got home that they saw the worst of it.

The Merrimack couple, who sold their home in Florida and moved back to New Hampshire several months ago, are two of the thousands of town residents to lose power during last week’s historic October snowstorm.

As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 75 percent of the town’s 11,000 Public Service Co. of New Hampshire customers remained without power.

“It’s funny. We came back here to have snow. But we never expected to have it in October,” Robert Pauley said Monday morning as he sat for breakfast in the D.W. Diner, which welcomed residents throughout the week with hot meals and warm coffee.

“At first we were laughing. We hadn’t seen snow in 10 years,” added his wife, Jane, as she sipped her coffee. “But, it’s been a few days now. … I could use a shower.”

Inside the diner, dozens of residents stayed in good spirits, trading war stories Monday as they enjoyed breakfast.

The diner, one of the few local businesses that stayed open throughout the snowstorm, hosted lines of people throughout the week. Servers even ran out of eggs at one point, but the coffee kept flowing, keeping people happy.

“Everyone’s been great. They’re just glad to have some place to go,” said Daniele Magee, one of the diner managers.

“Thank God, they’re open,” resident Alice Cunningham said Monday. ”I’m not a happy camper without my coffee.”

Outside the diner, residents had a sense of humor about their entrapment.

Between the down power lines and tree limbs that dotted town streets, one resident equipped a snowman with a sign reading “free snow,” and another topped his snowman with pumpkin for a head.

“You’ve got to have a little fun with it,” said Raymond Schleyer, who built his snowman outside his Turkey Hill Road home. “What else can you do?”

Despite the positive outlook, treacherous conditions remained.

As of Tuesday, sections of about 10 roads remained closed to traffic, shut down by down power lines and tree limbs, according to Merrimack Police. And town firefighters responded early in the week to more than 50 calls, ranging from fire alarms to carbon monoxide to a deck fire on Pond View Drive.

Investigators suspect the cause of the fire to be the improper disposal of ashes.

“There are always a lot of calls (during a time like this),” said Merrimack fire Lt. Richard Gagne. “We’re urging everyone to take extreme precaution.”

Electricity started to return Monday evening along parts of the Daniel Webster Highway, and more businesses re-opened Tuesday morning.

To aid those residents still without power, town officials opened both the John O’Leary Adult Community Center and the Merrimack Public Library to the public for warming, charging cell phones and using the Internet.

The library’s main internet connection was down Monday, but more than 40 people still came by to use the computers, read books and get warm.

“It’s so nice this place is open. If it wasn’t for this, we’d be boiling water just to stay warm (at home),” said Deb Bult, who brought her 8-year-old son Nathaniel to the library Monday.

“This is pretty fun,” Nathaniel added as he read through books in the children’s section. “It’s better than school.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.