Onlookers walk through Old Fort Western along the swollen Kennebec River in Augusta on Wednesday, after this week’s storm caused extensive flooding in the city and many other communities. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel file

AUGUSTA — The Kennebec River came up so fast earlier this week that flooding outpaced the ability of public safety and other workers to keep ahead of it.

That’s what officials told city councilors Thursday night during an update on ongoing recovery efforts from the third-worst flooding event in the city’s history.

Augusta Fire Chief David Groder Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

Despite the river’s rapid rise, however, there were no fatalities in the city and only minor injuries, according to David Groder, the city’s fire chief and emergency management director. Groder spoke to councilors Thursday, the same day power was finally restored to the east side of downtown Water Street. Power was shut off to buildings Tuesday after officials realized there were propane tanks floating, signs that natural gas supplies had not all been turned off and gas was leaking, and live electrical wires were down.

“We made a decision Tuesday to shut power down to the entire downtown — the reason was we were seeing readings (on detectors) of natural gas and propane in buildings, and there was still power, and you could see propane tanks floating,” Groder said. “We knew we had broken lines somewhere. To avoid a major disaster, we opted to dump the grid, which was all the downtown. We could have had a very serious situation.”

Flood waters on Wednesday submerge part of the Olde Federal Building in downtown Augusta, where an affixed measuring stick indicates a depth of close to 26 feet. To the right, a garage door is completely underwater. Courtesy of Erin Towns

Power was restored later that day to all but the east side of Water Street, nearest the river.

Electricity wasn’t restored to that side of the street until Thursday, after flooded buildings there were cleared by teams of inspectors, including officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection, city fire department, code officers including city of Waterville inspectors called in to come help to speed the process, and representatives of Maine Natural Gas, Summit Natural Gas, and Central Maine Power.


Groder told city councilors Thursday night that power had been restored to both sides of downtown Water Street earlier that day and it was up to building owners to get their furnaces and other infrastructure back up and working again.

Flood waters surround the Olde Federal Building in downtown Augusta on Wednesday. The building, which is home to several local businesses, has been closed and the power has been cut for safety. Courtesy of Gayle Chung

Acting Police Chief Kevin Lully said numerous roads had to be closed due to flooding from the rapidly rising river, which crested at 26.9 feet, almost seven feet below what is considered the 100-year flood level. Police helped contact the owners of cars parked on roads and in parking lots that were later inundated with water, towing some vehicles whose owners they could not locate.

A few vehicles did get submerged, as officials couldn’t have them towed in time to escape the rising waters.

“It certainly climbed a lot faster than what was predicted, more than we could effectively respond to,” Lully said. “There were a couple vehicles that did get submerged — we couldn’t get the wreckers in quick enough to them, that’s how quickly the water arose.”

As of Friday, the American Red Cross was still running a shelter at the Augusta Civic Center, where Margaret Noel, director of the city-owned facility, said cots, hygiene necessities, and food was being provided. She said Thursday there were 23 people registered there, with two dogs. Three of the people, she said, were unhoused before the storm, while most of the rest were from a downtown apartment building that was flooded.

Noel said Red Cross officials said the free shelter would be there as long as it was needed.


Lesley Jones, public works director, said Thursday only one street in the city, Blair Road, remained closed due to the storm. She said the road was still closed at the the time due to trees and wires being down there.

Jones said the city’s streets, unlike in some neighboring communities, did not sustain much damage in the storm.

She said a retaining wall and sidewalk by the old parking district building between Front and Water Streets were damaged and would be reviewed by a structural engineering consultant.

And she said a Riverside Disposal two-yard trash receptacle was stuck about 15 feet up in a tree, south of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department site downtown.

Earl Kingsbury, community services director, said the city lost a few dock sections at the eastside boat landing, and had damage to playground equipment from trees that fell in city parks. At Mill Park a fence was damaged by debris floating in the overflowing Kennebec River, and the petanque court also was damaged.

Councilors praised city workers for their actions and hours of work in responding to, and recovering from, the natural disaster.

“Congratulations chief, for a job well done,” At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen told Groder. “I know you lead our emergency response in times like this, and I really want to center that you’ve done a good job and your swift action had made this, I believe, as good as it could be.”

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