AUGUSTA – Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency for York County and surrounding communities in southern Maine on Sunday as dozens of roadways were flooded by bands of rain that continued to saturate parts of the state.
“It’s pretty localized, but it’s pretty severe,” Baldacci said in a brief telephone interview.
The National Weather Service issued a flood watch through Sunday night for York County as well as much of New Hampshire.
Localized flooding included the temporary closure of two lanes of the Maine Turnpike at mile 95, where tidal sea water joined with fresh water in a river, and along parts of U.S. Route 1.
The Kennebuck River was clogged with hundreds of fallen trees, according to one report.
The governor’s office said about 50 homes in the Sanford area around Lebanon near the New Hampshire border had been evacuated, as well as several homes in Kennebunk.
The emergency declaration could authorize a National Guard activation if needed and would serve as a prerequisite for requesting federal assistance.
“We don’t know how much damage we have until the water goes down,” said Charles Jacobs, assistant to the director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
Shelters were set up in Kennebunk, Ogunquit and Sanford.
In York Beach, a couple of kayakers paddled down a main street where yellow police tape adorned the downtown area. Firefighters in a boat were shutting off propane tanks.
Passer-by Rodney Freeman, a native, said such flooding was not uncommon but usually occurred every five or six years from the fallout of a hurricane.
“The tide generates most of it because it comes up from the beach,” Freeman said, “so if the rain’s heavy enough and the tide’s right, it does this.”
A spokeswoman for Baldacci, relaying information from emergency management officials, said a bridge on Shore Road in York had failed and that there were problems at another bridge on U.S. Route 1 on the Wells/Ogunquit town line.
Gubernatorial communications director Crystal Canney said flooding was reported on dozens of roads. Some lanes were closed on both sides of the lower Maine Turnpike for a time as motorists venturing out were slowed to a crawl.
Major delays were forecast in the area around the York Tollbooth.
Canney said eight families had come to the shelter at an Ogunquit community center.
The National Weather Service said Sunday morning that more than 10 inches had fallen on Cape Nedick, and more than 9 inches in Wells and that another 2 to 4 inches was possible through the day.
The forecast for the rest of the week called for either rain or a likelihood of showers through Saturday.
Baldacci met with emergency management officials in the capital and was to get another briefing Sunday night in Alfred. Officials said plans would be developed to cope with travel disruptions during Monday’s commute.
Central, northern and eastern Maine were escaping the worst of the rain.
Midday skies in Augusta were streaked with blue and temperatures upstate were expected to reach into the 60s.
In the southern Maine rain belt, local geography could reward or punish.
Kristina Hogue said along the Mousam River in Kennebunk, “we have a neighborhood that is under water – not under water, but in water.”
At one home, she said, the water was high enough to cover an outdoor trampoline.
Steven and Yetta Chin, with three children and a dog, found a dry place and meal at the Kennebunk Lower Village fire station after fleeing their home in the middle of the night.
Residents of about half a dozen homes in their neighborhood had been forced out.
“We were just an average American family thinking about maybe a summer vacation this year and now we’re homeless,” Yetta Chin said.
Along Route 1 in Wells at Congdon’s Doughnut Shop, owner Gary Leech said business was steady. Nearly 500 people had made their way in for breakfast or lunch in the dining room, with another 480 at the counter out front.
“And they’re all wet,” he said.
Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts declared a state of emergency as heavy rain soaked the region and flood warnings were in effect for much of northeastern Massachusetts.
In many communities, roads were closed and residents struggled with flooded basements.
In some areas of central New Hampshire torrential rains washed out roads and Gov. John Lynch activated the National Guard.
Rising water prompted continuing concerns for Maine officials.
“They’re watching the dams very closely,” Canney said.
A dam on Milton Pond in Milton, N.H., was in danger of failing, which would send a 10-foot wall of water downstream, the National Weather Service said in a bulletin. People down stream were being evacuated in the town, which borders West Lebanon, Maine.
Associated Press Writer Jerry Harkavy contributed to this report from York Beach and Kennebunk.