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Top 10 Seacoast Natural Disasters

Top_10_Seacoast_DisastersHISTORY MATTERS

Each year media pundits tick off the best and worst events of the year. Historians have more legroom. Submitted for your approval are ten cases in which Mother Nature took control of the situation in the Portsmouth, NH region. The list is subjective, culled from the chronicles of local history. Readers are welcome to offer alternatives. (Continue below)


To make things interesting, this list is arranged, not chronologically, but from least to most deadly. Other than the Great Fires, that may have been the result of arson, we've left tragedies of human origin out of the mix. That might be another list for another year.

10. A Day without Sunlight

New England’s darkest day was May 18, 1780. According to Portsmouth historian Nathaniel Adams, “Between 10 and 11 o'clock the darkness increased, and began to assume the appearance of evening. Fowls went to roost, and cattle collected round the barn-yards, as at the approach of night. Before noon it became so dark, as to be difficult to read without a candle … The evening was enveloped in total darkness; the sky could not be distinguished from the ground.” The next day was normal although foggy. Bits of burned leaves fell and rainwater was sooty. Researchers at the University of Missouri have recently suggested that the fires that blocked out the sun for miles out to sea originated at Algonquin Park, Ontario.

9. The Frozen Piscataqua

Passengers aboard the Navy Yard ferry #1048 from Portsmouth had to get out and walk back to shore in 1918. On February 11 the fast flowing Piscataqua River appeared to freeze solid. In fact, a mass of broken ice from Great Bay apparently caused a jam when the current reversed and the icebergs gathered together. Caught in the ice, the propeller failed on the Navy Yard ferry at 7am. The New Castle ferry was soon locked in too. When the tide shifted at 1 pm, the ice jam broke up and both boats were freed.

8. Whole Lotta Shakin

The “most severe and tremendous earthquake that was ever felt” in this region struck after midnight on November 18, 1755. The weather, according to reports, was serene, and the moon bright when a powerful shaking threw silverware from the drawers. The quake reportedly toppled 1,500 chimneys in the Boston area. Passengers aboard boats, feeling the shock wave, believed they had struck a rock. Awakened by the tremors, Portsmouth citizens feared the end of days as aftershocks continued for two weeks. Samuel Weeks brick house (1710) in Greenland stands as proof of the seismic event. Cracks in the brick walls and 18-inch thick beam can still be seen.

7. Ice Storm of 1886

Technically the recent ice damage of 2008 was more devastating than its sister storm of January 1886. That’s because we have grown dependent on electrical power. In Victorian days, a downed electrical or telephone line had no impact on most homes. There were no cars to strand, no airplanes to cancel, no Internet to disrupt business. Portsmouth was temporarily paralyzed in 1886, but the greatest danger came from falling on the ice as residents wandered the slippery streets admiring the frozen landscape. According to the Portsmouth Chronicle, "The glittering trees reflecting the gas lights, presented the effect of bowers of diamonds.”


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Tuesday, January 16, 2018 
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