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Residents return to flooded ME homes

The melting of this year's record snowfall is produced record flooding in Northern Maine towns

BY BOND BRUNGARD | FORT KENT, ME | May 3, 2008

This past winter Aroostook County, Maine, set snowfall records with more than 200-inches, but Thursday new records were set this time for flooding.

As many as 140 homes were flooded and 1000 people evacuated after the St. John River spilled its banks. The International Bridge, which crosses the St. John between Fort Kent and Clair, New Brunswick, was also closed because of the flooding. The river crested Thursday at about 31 feet, about four feet higher than flood stage and the previous record that had been set nearly 30 years ago.

But by Friday night, the river level had dropped enough that all of the residents forced from their homes were able to return to begin the job of assessing the damage and cleaning up.

Aroostook County is in the most northeastern corner of Maine, bordering the Province of New Brunswick in Canada. And there are only 74,000 residents in this vast county, the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

In Fort Kent, James Woodward, pastor of the Christ Church Congregational, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, said he expects his congregation will be involved in disaster recovery efforts.

Woodward is also a high school teacher and his school, like many others, was closed Thursday as the sun shone brightly. Woodward said the rivers are starting to recede, and he expected it to be a very busy weekend in town when the cleanup starts.

“The church has been open for anyone who needs a place to stay,” he said.

No one stayed, but Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross has set up a shelter in the Sports Center at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Mike Sirota, the chapter’s press officer, said the shelter was open for two days, closing Friday. Sirota said 15 people took shelter at the university and 59 meals were served.

Sirota said the Pine Tree Chapter is also working with the nearby towns of Island Falls, Washburn and Mattawamkeag to help with their non-affiliated Red Cross shelters there.

Claudia Stevens, executive director of the United Way in Presque Isle, farther south from Fort Kent, said her agency must wait for the cleanup to start before anything can be done to help the residents.

“Things are under control,” she said. “There is nothing we can do right now.”

Stevens’ family owns a cabin on a lake about 15 miles south of Fort Kent. Fort Kent is the intersecting point for the Fish and St John rivers, which carry water from the many lakes and interconnecting streams in the region. Stevens said the snow was about three feet deep before the heavy rains and warmer temperatures started the flooding.

“In the woods,” she said, “there was much snow left.”

Woodward has lived in Fort Kent for nine years, and he said he’s never experienced anything like the current flooding that has engulfed Fort Kent.

“It’s the worst thing I have ever seen,” he said.

And many of the lifelong residents he knows in the community agree, he added.


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