OGUNQUIT – Southernmost Maine endured a fourth consecutive day of heavy rain Monday as floodwaters washed out roads and bridges, closed schools and threatened a pair of dams along the New Hampshire border.
About 200 homes in York County have been evacuated because of the high water, but officials said they knew of no deaths or injuries.
Gov. John Baldacci, who declared a state of emergency in the county Sunday, toured the hard-hit areas for a second day in a row.
Officials said their chief concern was potential damage to two dams along the rain-swollen Salmon Falls River in Lebanon. The water level at Milton Dam remained stable during the night, but the water rose 5 inches on Spaulding Dam downstream and by late morning was only 4 inches below the top of the earthen berm, said Charlie Jacobs, assistant to the director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
Two areas of Lebanon near the Spaulding Dam were evacuated Monday as a precaution, he said, and officials were shipping 10,000 sandbags to Alfred so they would be available if needed.
A flood watch remained posted through the day as rain continued, bringing the total to 11.4 inches in Wells, 10.4 inches in Eliot, 10 inches in York and 8.6 inches in Kittery, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.
The relentless rain was blamed on a low-pressure system that stalled about four days ago.
“It’s sitting over the Ohio Valley. We have a high to the northeast in Canadian Maritimes, and that’s kind of blocked everything up for several days,” said meteorologist Dan St. Jean, who said the system was breaking up and drifting offshore, which should bring some relief.
The flooding played havoc with bridges in coastal communities looking forward to the start of the summer tourist season in two weeks.
The Skinner Bridge in Wells was out of service, as was a bridge at Cape Neddick in York, where pilings washed away and part of the span was buckling, the Maine Department of Transportation said.
John Matthews of York Beach was the last person to cross the bridge to Cape Neddick before it was closed by police.
Matthews said he and his wife were driving in their red pickup truck to check on a friend’s house. He said it felt like he was driving on a sponge and that his truck dropped about a foot in the middle of the bridge.
“It was like you were going down into the water and then you came up,” he said. “I gave her the gas to get out of there.”
Captain Thomas Road in Ogunquit was closed after two large culverts floated away, leaving a 22-foot gaping hole in the roadway, said Jeff Naum of the MDOT.
In downtown York, Railroad Avenue remained underwater and one of the few signs of activity was a line of television satellite trucks at water’s edge.
The electricity remained on, however, and the neon lights shined in the storefront windows of Josie’s Candy Shoppe as water covered the sidewalks and lapped at the sandbagged door.
Farther down the road, William Devine launched an inflatable raft and tried to paddle against the strong currents. He paddled past a floating trash can and was nearly swamped by the wake of a firetruck that rumbled past.
“I thought I’d have a little fun,” Devine said as he stood in the cold driving rain.
Joanne Alinori, 75, who lived through the epic Hurricane of 1938 and a tornado that uprooted trees outside her home in Rutland, Mass., took shelter in Ogunquit, where she mused about being able to add a flood to the disasters she has encountered.
Living alone in a summer cottage in York, Alinori waited as long as she could in hopes of improving weather before she gave up hope Monday morning.
“I waded out to the store and called the fire department,” she said. “I decided it was better to go to a shelter.”
Former President George Bush and his wife arrived at their summer home in Kennebunkport during the weekend rain but were not affected by the high waters.
“They feel very blessed that there has been no flooding at Walker’s Point,” said Jean Becker, Bush’s chief of staff.
As teams of engineers and inspectors from MDOT fanned out across the county to examine the road and bridge damage, the state was preparing a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a preliminary damage assessment.
“It’s obvious there’s very substantial damage, but until the water goes down there’s no way to estimate it,” Jacobs said.
With many York County schools closed for the day, officials cautioned parents to keep tabs on their children’s whereabouts so they don’t wander into areas where they could be swept away by floodwaters.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” said Jacobs, who also urged motorists to be vigilant. “Most deaths in flooding situations occur in cars when people try to drive through flooded roadways.”
A warning was also directed at kayakers who reportedly took their craft onto flood-swollen rivers. In addition to the dangers posed by trees in the water, Barbara Parker of the Department of Environmental Protection cited the high bacterial count linked to a sewage treatment plants that may not be working properly.
The DEP responded to several reports of oil spills, most of them linked to basement oil tanks.