RUMFORD – A lost trucker trying to get to NewPage paper mill ran over a fire hydrant late Wednesday morning starting a flood on Route 2 that may have caused an estimated $100,000 in damage.
For a few hours, several thousand gallons of silt-laden water poured into the Androscoggin River off Morse Bridge and Route 108, also known as Bridge Street.
Residents and Rumford Hospital were without water for a while. When it was restored, the water was brown.
The hospital remained in contingency-plan mode Wednesday evening, using bottled water and alcohol hand-washes and wipes at bedsides, a nursing supervisor said.
“Everybody’s got their water back, but, obviously, it’s dirty,” Water District Superintendent Brian Gagnon said Wednesday morning while trying to shut down water valves on a ruptured main under Route 2.
At 6:45 p.m., public works employees were grading dirt there after the main was repaired. They were preparing to re-open the partially-paved highway to traffic for the first time since 9:55 a.m.
That’s when Yaw Kusi, 50, of Ontario, Canada, driving a 2003 Freightliner for Transport Besner Trucking Co. of St. Nicholas, Quebec, pulled off Route 2 into the Rumford Information Center parking lot at the bottom of Falls Hill, Patrolman Lawrence Winson said late Wednesday afternoon.
Kusi, who was driving to the Rumford mill to pick up a load, had missed the turn, and was trying to turn around when the rear tire on his trailer knocked over a new fire hydrant, Winson said.
Gagnon said that when the hydrant, which had been fixed in February, was knocked over, back pressure hammered the nearby water main around the corner, up a hill and under Franklin Street, also known as Route 2.
“This is a mess. It’s not good,” Gagnon said.
“Hopefully, it’s not a big piece that we have to replace. The pressure is pretty high at the bottom of Falls Hill,” he added.
Gagnon estimated that more than 100,000 gallons of muddy water may have drained into the Androscoggin.
“Every foot represents 100,000 gallons. I know they both dropped considerably,” Gagnon said of water levels at the hydrant and water main.
By 11:15 a.m., light-chocolate brown water was still churning strongly under and over Route 2’s eastbound lane, rushing to pool at the western entrance to Morse Bridge, which was damaged on both ends on Friday by a tractor-trailer truck carrying a crane.
Police and firefighters rerouted traffic around the mucky mess, confusing drivers and truckers, at first, until detour signs were erected.
At one point, Kusi walked partially up Route 2 to photograph the damage himself before returning to his rig.
A thick layer of small stones and several inches of mud covered Route 108 at the bridge. Sidewalk curbing dropped into a hole left when adjacent highway pavement sank and buckled as it was undercut by rushing water.
Winson thought damage would be tens of thousands of dollars, but police Chief Stacy Carter, who also assisted, said late Wednesday afternoon that he expected damage to be in the $100,000 range.
Patrolman Mark Cayer, who also assisted, said Kusi was not the first trucker to try to turn around in the information booth parking lot.
“Truckers have done it a couple of times in the past, and that hydrant got hit,” Cayer said.
At one point, Morse Bridge was also shut down for fear it may have again suffered structural damage from the flooding water, Winson said.
A Maine Department of Transportation engineer called to the scene later said the bridge was safe.