Floods swamp Western Maine

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GILEAD – A band of severe thunderstorms stretching from Gilead to Newry on Wednesday night wreaked havoc with three highways. Motorists were stranded in places – three launching rescue efforts – and cars were submerged by flash floods.

Officials contacted Thursday reported no drownings or serious injuries, but significant damages. Road shoulders were eroded in places, and two bridges were washed out on Routes 26 and 113. A culvert and road shoulders on Route 2 were also damaged, prompting multiple road closures.

Routes 2 and 26 were reopened late Thursday afternoon. Route 113 will remain closed indefinitely due to severe bridge damage, said Oxford County Emergency Management Agency Director Scott Parker.

North Road in Bethel also remains closed, the result of flood damage from Chapman Brook.

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“Our Angevine Park was blown apart,” Bethel Town Manager Scott Cole said Thursday evening. “There was 250 feet of washout. Chapman Brook jumped its banks and wiped out two driveways and blew away our water supply. It even moved cars in Jane Walker’s driveway. It was heartbreaking.”

Two New Hampshire youths escaped serious injury on Route 113 when their car jumped a washed-out bridge, but two Gilead firefighters searching for them were injured when they crashed into the same bridge abutment, an Oxford County deputy said Thursday night.

A Sunday River Ski Resort security officer rescued a Grand Summit Hotel guest after she tried to drive across the flooded Summit Road during the storm. The resort also lost water and sewer infrastructure, spokesman Alex Kaufman said at Summit Road, which had a gaping hole on one lane. The other lane was missing several hundred feet of pavement and shoulder.

Nearby, Upper Skiway Road was mostly destroyed, parking lots were damaged and a sinkhole opened up between condos and a ski lift at South Ridge Base Lodge.

Bethel may declare a state of emergency today, Parker and Cole both said, if the Bethel Water District seeks help.

One-third of Bethel’s 2,600 residents have wells, but the rest depend on town water, including Parker. Hotels and restaurants are also affected and can’t be expected to boil water indefinitely, Parker said.

“It’s a significant problem. Poland Spring is bringing up a tractor-trailer load of bottled water tonight. The first 10 loads are free, but after that, we have to have other systems ready to go,” he added.

A Bethel Water District sign posted at Rite-Aide in Bethel on Thursday morning stated, “Due to emergency situation, extreme water conservation is needed until further notice.”

Rescues

Oxford County Sheriff’s Sgt. Matthew Baker said he never saw anything like Wednesday night’s storm, which dumped an estimated 4 to 5 inches of rain within an hour or two from Gilead to Newry.

“The streams were just swollen with water, and full of mud and dirt, and roaring down the mountain” in Evans Notch, Baker said.

A motorist flagged him down in North Fryeburg at midnight and told him that a Route 113 bridge had washed out, stranding kids in a car. He responded from the Stowe side of Route 113, while Gilead assistant fire Chief Richard Saunders and Lt. Jamie McLean drove in from the other end.

Baker said he found the uninjured youths, driver Lee Lamontagne, 18, of Gorham, N.H., and passenger Cameron Kinerson, 16, of Littleton, N.H., in their damaged Volkswagen Jetta.

A raging brook had carved an 8-foot-wide hole through the bridge, taking out the road, Baker said.

The youths, who couldn’t get through flooded Route 2 to return home, tried to drive south to New Hampshire on Route 113.

“They said they came around a corner and saw no road ahead of them. Instead of trying to stop – which, if they would have, they would have drowned – they kept going and they jumped the gap and over the bridge, and landed on my side,” Baker said.

Saunders and McLean, who were driving the department’s 1977 Dodge utility truck, didn’t know the boys had been found and weren’t aware that there was no road or bridge ahead of them. Gilead fire Chief Kenny Cole said some cars had safely crossed the flooded bridge despite sections of pavement collapsing under them.

“Then a Tahoe went across in front of (Saunders and McLean), and the whole road collapsed. (Saunders and McLean) said they went up over a little rise and saw that the tar and everything was gone, and it was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ It was a great divide,” Cole said.

The firetruck vaulted empty space like the kids’ car had, but the front tires hit the other side abutment and blew out.

“The momentum of the truck carried it over,” Cole said. “They were lucky to span it, very lucky that they didn’t nose into it, because the weight of equipment in the rear would have crushed the cab and they also would have drowned.”

Saunders and McLean were taken by the Gorham, N.H., ambulance service to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, N.H., where they were treated for cuts and bruises and released.

The impact with the bridge drove Saunders bottom teeth through his lip, requiring eight stitches, the fire chief said. The firetruck was totaled.

At Sunday River Ski Resort at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, security officer Richard Viitala heard a woman yelling to him in the darkness for help before spotting her stuck in a small blue car in Barker Brook floodwaters raging over Summit Road, Kaufman said.

“He hopped in a much bigger maintenance truck and went out to her, but the current was so strong, it pushed his truck against her car. Then, he got her out of the car and into the truck and drove off. The water quickly continued to rise, and then, goodbye, the stream swept her car 150 feet downstream,” Kaufman said.

It was still there Thursday, trapped in floodwaters, wedged against a wooden snowmobile bridge with a pile of woody debris.

Other accounts

David Verani of southern New Hampshire was stuck Thursday morning on Route 26 waiting for MDOT workers to temporarily fix Great Brook Bridge by filling in a 10-foot-deep hole with gravel. Verani said he drove into Maine and unwittingly into unseen floodwaters on Route 2 during the storm Wednesday night.

“I didn’t even see it, but I had water literally up to my mirrors for 150 feet, then I saw people in cars stranded out there. Thankfully, I had four-wheel drive,” Verani said.

Newry firefighter and town fire warden Alan Fleet said he measured just over 5 inches of rain at his Route 26 house between 7 and 11 p.m. Wednesday.

“The flooding happened so fast, nobody knew what was happening,” MDOT maintenance worker Shawn MacFarlane of Dixfield said while helping to repair eroded shoulders along Route 26 Thursday morning.

“It was like we had a 100-year flood overnight,” MDOT crewman Dave Thurston of Mexico added.

National Weather Service meteorologist Art Lester in Gray said forecasters knew that Western Maine would get hit by thunderstorms after storms pounded Vermont, but expected the severity to be greatly decreased.

“Apparently, they didn’t weaken as much as we thought. That was sort of a surprise,” Lester said. “And, the fact that roads were closed was a surprise.”

The weather service didn’t issue a flood warning for central Oxford County until two minutes after learning that roads had been flooded in Newry and Bethel, according to last night’s bulletin.

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