Severe Weather Northeast

Joe Stanhope and Tori Grasse carry furniture from the flooded outdoor patio of the Quarry Tap Room on Dec. 19 in Hallowell. Nathan Stanhope, rear, wades through the flood water to retrieve more items. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press file

AUGUSTA — With more than $20 million in public infrastructure damages tallied from the powerful storm that swept through Maine just before Christmas, Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday formally requested a disaster declaration from President Biden.

At the same time, Mills also requested Biden to authorize individual assistance to eligible families in five central and western Maine counties whose properties were damaged by the powerful storm, which brought historic flooding and widespread and prolonged power outages to the state the week before Christmas.

In her letter, Mills noted that across all levels of government in Maine, emergency management officials have been responding to more frequent and severe storms over the last 24 months, challenging their ability to respond and recover from disasters.

In that period, Maine has received five disaster declarations and one emergency declaration that include a severe storm and flooding Dec. 23-24, 2022, across southern and western Maine and a portion of the midcoast; the April 30-May 1 flood on the Kennebec River; and flooding in late June in western Maine.

If Biden approves Mills’ request, the state would be able to access federal funds via the Public Assistance Program to pay for repairs to roads, bridges, public buildings, utilities and other public infrastructure in Androscoggin, Franklin, Hancock, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties.

As part of the process of determining public infrastructure damage, a preliminary assessment was completed during the first week of January in nine of the 10 affected counties, totaling nearly $6 million. Assessment work continues in Kennebec County, home to four cities and several towns along the Kennebec River that sustained extensive damage. As state and federal emergency management officials continue to validate the losses, officials expect that total to rise.


Gov. Janet Mills, third from left, tours the former Maine Spinning Mill building on Dec. 21 with Zack Pike, owner of Pike Project Development, second from left, and Pike Project Development’s Project Developer Eric Pfeffer, left, and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson, right. The basement of the building was flooded with 5 feet of water when the Kennebec River reached the property at 7 Island Ave. in Skowhegan. The flood caused millions of dollars of damage to equipment and building materials. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

Through the Individual Assistance Program, eligible people and households who have serious needs and expenses and are uninsured or underinsured in Androscoggin, Franklin, Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset counties can receive financial help and direct services.

Although the joint preliminary damage assessment for individual assistance included site visits in the five counties identified during the first week of January, those visits represented only a small subset of damaged properties. Even so, the assessment identified 13 destroyed properties and 106 major, 65 minor and 31 affected properties, with 102 of the properties in Oxford County alone.

Under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, state, local and tribal governments could receive grant funds to develop hazard mitigation plans and rebuild in ways that lessen or mitigate future disaster losses.

In her letter, Mills wrote that in most Maine homes, furnaces and water heaters are located in basements, as are extra freezers and often electrical panels, and many basements flooded.

“With the hardest hit areas residing in low-income communities, and limitations associated with the lack of skilled contractors, available housing and readily available major household items, the ability for these individuals to recover is well beyond the physical or fiscal capacity of the community or the state at large to support,” Mills wrote.

She also noted that many self-employed mechanics, woodworkers and retailers are now unemployed because of tools, machinery and inventory in basements and garages lost to flood damage.

This request does not include the two storms that struck Maine last week, bringing historic flooding to coastal cities and towns. Maine Emergency Management Agency officials are working with local officials to estimate the cost of the damage that resulted.

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