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December 20, 2023

Storm's aftermath: Cleanup starts in central and western Maine; L-A braces for peak flooding

Water and town Photo / Keith P. Luke High water levels in Augusta in the storm's aftermath were captured on camera by Keith Luke, the city's economic development director.

Monday's powerful coastal storm wreaked havoc with high winds and stormy seas, but it is the central and mountainous areas of Maine that are feeling some of the worst effects of heavy rain and flooding.

Nearly half a million customers lost power in the turbulent Dec. 18 storm and flooding damaged homes, businesses and highways throughout central and western Maine. 

Waterville, Skowhegan, Rumford and Farmington all reported severe flooding, while the city of Auburn issued a warning that the Androscoggin River was not expected to peak before the middle of Wednesday.

Central Maine Power said that more than 400,000 customers lost power, with more than 142,000 of those being restored by Tuesday night. At the peak, Versant reported 89,000 customers were without power.

As of Wednesday morning, CMP said that 208,000 of its customers have been restored, or 50% of those impacted by Monday’s storm. The remaining customers are spread across 2,500 instances of broken poles, fallen trees, disabled transformers and damaged wires. Versant also reported this morning that as of 11 a.m., there are approximately 53,000 customers still without power. 

CMP plans to update all customers with an estimated time of restoration later today.  

CMP had 1,175 crews focusing on line restoration and tree work — more than the 1,048 crews called into action after the famous 1998 ice storm. Some people could be without power for up to six days. 

“We know how frustrating it can be to be without power, and we appreciate your patience," said Joe Purington, CMP's president. "In areas hardest hit, particularly in some interior parts of the state, we could be faced with a six-day restoration timeframe based on what we know right now ... We understand the disruption an outage can cause to daily life. Please know our entire team will be working around the clock to restore your power quickly and safely," 

Since the onset of the storm, CMP received more than 1,500 calls from local emergency management agencies about damaged trees, broken poles, washed out roads and area flooding.

"This has created incredibly challenging conditions for crews, who have been unable to access some areas that have been hardest hit, particularly in interior parts of Maine," CMP said in a news release.

How businesses are responding

On Wednesday morning, several dozen utility trucks were spotted in various mini-convoys, headed north on 295 between Portland and Yarmouth to help with what has been said to be the worst flood since 1987. 

Here is how businesses and towns around the state are responding to the aftermath of the storm. 

In Canaan, frozen pizza-dough maker the Good Crust is working with “an abbreviated crew back in the manufacturing facility today, after two days without power,” Heather Kerner, the company’s founder and CEO, told Mainebiz Wednesday morning.

“Our biggest stressor is always keeping frozen product secure when the power goes out, especially as we were preparing for a large Sysco shipment to go out during the holidays,” she noted “As a small business that invested in three-phase power, and expensive infrastructure to start up, we have not been able to afford a commercial generator yet.”

“Many of our staff are tending to their own safety and security at home, as Central Maine has been hit hard with trees and power lines down, flooding and structural damage,” she added.

In Skowhegan, Maine Grains had power restored Wednesday morning after staying closed on Tuesday, according to Amber Lambke, the company’s founder and CEO.

“The loss of power is especially gut-wrenching when you are managing walk-in coolers, walk-in freezers, and all of the inventory being made and purchased ahead of this holiday week of sales,” she told Mainebiz.

It's been a stressful couple of days for a number of local business, she added, "as we all rely on on our refrigeration to stock and produce inventory for sale. Everyone is assessing losses today, and/or managing generators if they are still without power. We are safe, though, and looking out for one another.”

Kristina Cannon of Main Street Skowhegan said that people were still assessing the damage on Wednesday after the waters just receded a bit overnight.

“For some, it will be a return to business as usual, while for others it will be lots of clean-up and repair before they can return to normal,” said Cannon, the organization’s president and CEO. “It's normally a busy week at our retailers and food businesses, so this puts a damper on things for sure. Hopefully they will see significant revenue generation in the next few days leading up to the holiday.”

Over in Castine, Matt Powell and George Trinovitch, owners of the Pentagöet Inn & Pub said on social media that as of yesterday night, they were on day two of no power in Castine. Powell told Mainebiz that as of last night, the power had been restored on Castine Road, the town of Orland and the town of Penobscot. As of this morning, Castine is still dark, but residents have been told that the power will be restored by 1 p.m. today. 

“We sustained minimal food loss,” said Powell. “Additionally, the warm temperatures have been a godsend, protecting against possible burst pipes. We did not sustain any flooding, though we know some other buildings in town did not fare as well.” 

Compass Rose Books owner Johanna Barrett posted to social media this morning that the town is still without power and internet but she will be open and will be serving sandwiches and fresh coffee. 

In Augusta, Keith Luke, the city’s economic development director, said Tuesday’s flooding was the highest level since the flood of 1987 and six feet below the 100-year flood stage. 

Water Street businesses including Cushnoc and State Lunch had equipment that was located in the lowest levels (on Front Street) that was damaged and their losses will likely be significant” he reported to Mainebiz on Wednesday. In addition, residents of Bond Street and the vicinity of Bond Brook saw some significant flooding as well. Businesses on the river (east side) of Water Street may be closed for several days while utilities including gas and electricity are restored, he said.
“We are fortunate that the storm was accompanied by warm temperatures which has certainly helped recovery efforts,” he said.

The Augusta Civic Center is open as a warming center until 5 p.m., and encouraging residents to come in to get warm, charge phones and have warm coffee. 

In Hallowell, the Quarry Tap Room had a Facebook post-Tuesday saying it will be closed until further notice due to no power and flooding. 

In Rumford, the police department announced this morning in a Facebook post that  U.S. Route 2 in Rumford is now open from downtown through to Bethel. Please be mindful that road crews are clearing the remaining debris. There is also fairly thick mud and some ice/water in spots. They are asking drivers to navigate the roadway slowly and carefully.

Also, ME State Route 232 is impassable, South Rumford Road is washed out in the area of 150 and is impassable in other areas, and Wyman Hill Road is passable with some mud and ice. ME State Route 5 is washed out just beyond the Rumford line in Andover. East Andover Road is impassable.

In Waterville, the city announced on social media that all city departments, with the exception of emergency service will be closed due to no internet connection. Public works will begin collecting trash and recycling from both yesterday and today. Waterville Creates said that their administrative offices, the Ticonic Gallery and the Ed Harris Box office will remain closed.

The Waterville Police Department said that CMP will continue to get power restored, and crews from Connecticut, Illinois and Alabama have arrived in the town. 

In Farmington, the fire department told Mainebiz that operations are back to normal in the downtown. The water has receded on lower Main Street but the businesses will remain closed until cleaning and an assessment of the damage is done. The bridge over the falls which was under construction will also remain closed until the town can get someone to assess the damage and determine if it is safe. 

Ski areas

The Sunday River ski area will remain closed on Wednesday.

Sugarloaf was also closed, with plans to resume operations on Thursday: “Sugarloafers stand together and get the job done, and that certainly was evident over the last 36 hours,” according to a Tuesday Facebook post. “The crew has been hard at work and could use one more day to work their magic in preparation for resuming operations Thursday, 12/21.”

Riverfront flooding

In Waterville, the Kennebec flooded parts of the historic Hathaway Mill.

In Rumford, rising waters of the Androscoggin River were described as a 100-year flood, engulfing the downtown, damaging roads and swamping basements. 

In Auburn, the city warned residents that Androscoggin floodwaters were expected to peak at mid-day Wednesday. Areas that could be affected were the low-lying areas of North River Road, Newbury Street and Riverside Drive. "The City of Auburn strongly recommends evacuating these areas," the city said in its alert.

Later this morning, Gov. Janet Mills was scheduled to join state and county emergency management officials to survey flooding along As a result of Monday’s major wind and rain storm, the Kennebec River has risen to levels not seen in decades. 

After surveying the flooding damage, Mills is scheduled to receive a briefing on ongoing storm response and recovery efforts from Maine Emergency Management Agency Director Peter Rogers and Commissioner of Transportation Bruce Van Note at MEMA’s Emergency Operations Center. Following the briefing, Mills will deliver remarks at a press conference to update the Maine people.
“The Governor continues to strongly urge Maine people in areas that are heavily impacted to not travel if possible and to heed the advice and warnings of local emergency response officials,” said a statement issued on Wednesday. 
On Tuesday, Mills declared a State of Civil Emergency for most Maine counties to mobilize all state resources to assist and support response and recovery efforts and position the state to seek federal disaster support in coming weeks. The 14 counties were selected to target assistance to the areas hardest hit, though the state said it stands ready to assist all counties in need.

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