Southern Maine threat eases, but ‘it’s just teasing’

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PORTLAND (AP) – Heavy rain continued early Tuesday in flood-stricken York County, but road openings and the easing of the threat to two dams on the Salmon Falls River fueled hopes that the worst had passed.

By afternoon, the rain ended and the sun cut briefly through the overcast, lifting spirits, if only for the time being.

“”We saw a slight glimmer, so it’s just teasing us,” said Bette Hernandez, assistant town clerk in Sanford.

Earlier in the day, Charlie Jacobs of the Maine Emergency Management Agency said in a telephone briefing that, “The situation is somewhat improved today.”

The Salmon Falls, along the New Hampshire border, receded a bit during the night at the Milton and Spaulding dams, easing the threat of a breach that had prompted the evacuations of hundreds of households in the Lebanon and Berwick area, Jacobs said.

Despite a flood warning that remained posted Tuesday, two York County shelters that had been operating since the weekend in Kennebunk and Sanford were closed at noon for lack of demand as evacuees moved in with friends and relatives.

Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration met with local officials at the county seat in Alfred to help in the transition from the response phase to the recovery phase.

Some of the 40 Maine Army National Guard troops who were activated to help in the recovery were assigned to control the flow of traffic at damaged bridges and other potential trouble spots.

The Kennebunk sewage treatment plant, which had been taken off line because of the high water, returned to service.

While maintaining that it was still too early to begin to put a price tag on the flood damage, Jacobs ventured that repairs to one bridge – on Shore Road in York’s Cape Neddick – could cost $2 million.

Chambers of commerce along the York County coast, one of the epicenters of Maine tourism, expressed confidence that hotels, restaurants and other attractions would be set to go for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of the season.

“Actually, we’re ready now,” said Eleanor Vadenais of the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce. “This coming weekend is typically a busy one. It’s the Victoria Day celebration in Canada.”

The Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce issued a call to volunteers to meet at Short Sands Beach today to help clean up debris and get businesses up and running.

“People are canceling reservations because they think we are closed,” said Cathy Goodwin, chamber of commercepresident.

“There are pockets of closure but most all of the coast is recovering quickly.”

In York Beach, where the downtown district had been flooded with two feet of water during the weekend, Peggy Fennelly had not seen the inside of her candy store until she walked inside, accompanied by Gov. John Baldacci.

She found bags, sodas in plastic bottles and supplies floating in the dark water. Her freezer was toppled onto its side. Boxes of penny candies and chocolate were soaked and ruined.

“I started crying and he hugged me. He said you’re a strong lady and you’ll make it,” said Fennelly, standing outside Sweet Josie’s Candy Shoppe on Monday as her son-in-law, wearing a wet suit, hauled away the candy that could be salvaged.

Already, Fennelly, 73, was making plans to have two stores that she owns cleaned and to have new drywall installed.

Over the past week or so, portions of Maine’s southernmost county have been hit with more than a foot of rain as a high pressure system in the Canadian Maritimes and a stalled low pressure system just to the west drew tropical moisture into the region.

As of Tuesday morning, Cape Neddick had received a total of 14.3 of rain from the lingering storm.

Even though the month is only half over, it ranks as Portland’s wettest May on record and tenth wettest of any month in 135 years of record-keeping, according to the National Weather Service. By late Monday, 10.2 inches of rain had fallen in Portland; the one-month record for Maine’s largest city is 16.8 inches, set in October 1996.

Some schools in the county remained closed for a second day out of concerns about transportation.

While there have been no reports of death or injury linked to the flooding, officials reiterated their warning to motorists to avoid venturing onto flooded roads and to refrain from paddling kayaks or canoes on rain-swollen rivers where they could encounter trees or other debris.

“This is not recreation, this is a very serious situation,” said Stephen McCausland of the state Public Safety Department.


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