Maine river crests after surging to record high
Associated Press Writer
The rain-swollen St. John River crested early Thursday after hitting a record high, forcing residents to flee to higher ground as more than 100 homes flooded.
Rain and melting snow raised the St. John to more than 30 feet - about 5 feet above flood stage - causing widespread flooding. The previous record crest of 27.3 feet was set in 1979.
Floodwaters flowed down streets and swamped homes, businesses, yards and the landmark St. Louis Catholic Church in the center of town.
At Quigley's Building Supply, the waters filled the lumber yard in less than half an hour, sending lumber downriver and putting the yard under 12 feet of water.
Manager Justin Dubois was philosophical about the losses.
"It's frustrating but at least everyone's OK. Everything is replaceable," he said.
Nearby, Christine Chasse used a snow shovel to push water and debris out of her two-car garage. A hastily made berm protected her home from the Fish River on one side while the town levee protected her home from the St. John River on other side.
Still, the waters managed to flood her basement and turn her yard into a lake. Her family moved the furniture to the second floor when they were told to evacuate.
"I'm very sad to see the church under water, and I realize there are some people worse off than us," she said.
About 1,000 residents were told to leave and as many as 140 homes were flooded. Authorities said it could be this weekend before people are allowed to return to their flooded homes, and driving around Aroostook County was a challenge because so many bridges and roads were closed.
But officials sighed with relief that water did not spill over a levee. Also, the International Bridge that connects Maine and Canada held up, despite fears that the raging waters could drag it down, choking the fast-moving river and sending more water into the town.
"If the bridge had let go, that would've been the end for Fort Kent. The whole town would've washed out," Police Chief Kenneth Michaud said Thursday. No one was hurt, he said.
The spring flooding realized the worst fears of emergency management officials after a winter in which some parts of northern Maine saw more than 200 inches of snow. Despite the melting snow, it seemed that the region had dodged heavy floods until 3 to 4 inches of rain fell on Tuesday.
That deluge, combined with melting snow, sent rivers and streams rising across northern Maine.
Elsewhere, flood warnings were issued for portions of the Penobscot, Kennebec, Aroostook, St. Francis and Mattawamkeag rivers. Small numbers of evacuations were reported in Van Buren, Wallagrass, Milford and Masardis.
More than 100 state roads and dozens of local roads were shut down or had lanes closed, said Lynette Miller, a spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. Four bridges were also closed.
Forecasters predicted the St. John River would fall below flood stage on Friday morning. But residents won't be allowed to return to their homes near Main Street until the water recedes enough for engineers to inspect the levee and bridge, Michaud said.
Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Maine Emergency Management Agency: http://www.state.me.us/mema
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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