After roof collapse, Henniker homeowner in search of help
Carl Hamel Sr. of Henniker, a tall, proud man, stood in his driveway yesterday afternoon and took stock of splintered timber, scattered insulation and warped vinyl siding strewn across his property. Less than 24 hours earlier, Hamel watched the roof collapse onto the second floor of his ranch at 177 Tanglewood Drive. Twenty inches of snow had caked atop the house by the time freezing rain rolled in Friday and overtaxed the roof, which collapsed about 4:45 p.m. Beneath the debris were the remains of the home he built 30 years ago with his wife, Patricia.
“What do we do now? We have no idea where we’re going to go, what we’re going to do,” said Hamel, 65. Firefighters responded Friday for a report of a collapsed roof and found both Carl and Patricia rattled, but safe. After cutting off utility lines to the house, the authorities deemed it uninhabitable.
The American Red Cross of New Hampshire will pay for the Hamels to spend four nights at a local hotel. The nonprofit also gave a pre-paid card with several hundred dollars for the couple to spend on necessities.
A complete tear-down of the house is almost certain.
“We don’t see any way we can salvage the house. We’re just trying to salvage a few of the most precious things we own and hope they are not broken,” Hamel said.
Hamel’s roof collapsed at the tail end of a week featuring significant snowfall and freezing rain, a combination that prompted state Fire Marshal William Degnan to issue a statewide alert urging residents to be mindful of their roofs. Degnan dismissed the misconception that only flat roofs are susceptible to collapse and advised homeowners to clear roofs of excessive snow and ice as carefully as possible.
Hamel had planned to spend the afternoon clearing the stubborn snow. “The roof had a nice, steep pitch, but the snow just wouldn’t slide off,” he said. He was shoveling a section of the driveway to create a workable space to use a roof rake for snow removal when he heard a loud noise, followed by a stiff breeze in his face.
“When it came down, it was just one big whoosh,” Hamel said. He immediately tossed debris aside and entered the house to find Patricia covered in plaster, but otherwise safe. Neither was injured.
What was a hive of activity Friday night had calmed by yesterday. Hamel’s son, Carl Jr., was on his way to help survey the damage and determine a path forward.
The force of the collapse sent building material soaring across the property. Sap oozed from the trunk of a maple tree that had been struck, and small pieces of insulation clung to branches of pine trees, some of which were 40 feet away from the property.
A native of Fitchburg, Mass., Hamel relocated to New Hampshire because he had always loved the area. Thirty years ago, he purchased 1 acre on bucolic Tanglewood Drive, off Route 9 in Henniker. The 1,132-square-foot ranch was never a huge house, but it was always home.
After 40 years as an employee in the federal government, Hamel had saved enough to retire and build the addition he had always wanted. Work started four years ago, but kicked into high gear about a year ago, when Hamel officially retired. He would live off a modest pension and spend his savings to build a dream second floor, complete with a master bedroom and bathroom, a green room and a set of five French windows above an already existing set on the first floor.
“I had been working on it for four years, so it was starting to look pretty good,” he said. “I put every dime I had into the house. I retired with $150,000 in savings, and I put it all in the house, and it’s all gone. I’m completely wiped out.”
As he considered a way to retrieve personal items from the first floor, Hamel said he had to consider the prospect of further collapse.
“We’re really worried about the first floor, because a lot of the second floor and the roof have already fallen down into that area,” Hamel said.
With demolition likely, Hamel said he had family in the area he could stay with. Even though he’s not one to ask for favors, Hamel said he would welcome help from the community. One neighbor already offered use of his backhoe to clear some of the debris.
“I’m hopeful,” he said. “We could certainly use some assistance.”
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)