A fallen tree and downed power lines frame a firefighter Monday, Dec. 18, on Main Street in Waterville. Strong wind gusts and heavy rainfall brought down trees, including one that fell on a house and forced the closure of Main Street at Johnson Heights. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — In the wake of a devastating rain and wind storm that knocked out power to thousands of central Mainers last week, the city is recovering, reflecting on lessons learned and continuing to prepare for future emergencies.

City Manager Bryan Kaenrath and fire Chief Shawn Esler said Tuesday that the city is applying for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for money the city used to help mitigate issues during the storm and power outage. As of Tuesday, Esler estimated the cost — including for overtime for police, fire and public works officials — to be $20,000, but said that a specific total won’t likely be known until later this week.

The police department had to call in additional dispatchers and patrol officers and the fire department also needed extra hands, calling all firefighters and some full-time staff to assist with a large number of calls during the significant weather-related event, according to Esler.

“We’re in the process of analyzing those calls now,” he said. “At the fire department, we had over 100 calls in a 24-hour period.”

Downed power lines hang above Main Street near where paramedics and police responded Monday, Dec. 18, after strong wind gusts and heavy rainfall toppled a tree into a home, forcing the street to close at Johnson Heights in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Gov. Janet Mills announced Tuesday that FEMA approved a request from the Maine Emergency Management Agency to start the process for conducting a preliminary damage assessment of the storm, a first formal step to request a major disaster declaration from the federal government. MEMA is working with local communities to estimate the cost of storm damage. Mills on Friday requested FEMA send federal officials to Maine to start assessing damage.

The federal and Maine agencies are working together to schedule assessments and if FEMA agrees the costs associated with the storm are beyond the capabilities of Maine to address, Mills will formally request a “major disaster declaration” from President Joe Biden, according to a news release from the governor’s office.


Mills and MEMA Director Pete Rogers encouraged Mainers impacted by the storm to report property damage by dialing 2-1-1.

“We welcome this quick approval from FEMA and look forward to working with them to validate damage from the storm so that we can request a Major Disaster Declaration from the president as soon as possible,” Mills said in a statement.


In Waterville, residents last week reported trees falling on homes causing structural damage, roofs being ripped off by the wind, shingles flying off roofs and in at least one case, a metal roof blowing completely off a home, according to Esler. People reported broken doors and windows, and on Water Street in the city’s South End, the Kennebec River flooded the Hathaway Creative Center parking lot, submerging vehicles.

The Kennebec River floods the parking lot of the Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street in Waterville on Tuesday morning, Dec. 19, a day after a storm dumped several inches of rain on the region. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

“So we were really, really busy — that’s an understatement,” Esler said.

He said police, fire and public works officials did a great job helping people and cleaning up downed trees and debris. Ahead of the storm, the city notified North River Co., which owns the Hathaway building, that its parking lot would flood, but the flood waters were higher than what anyone projected.


“I don’t think anybody could have predicted that at that point, until it was actually occurring,” Esler said.

On Tuesday, the day after the storm started, the city also notified people living on Water Street that they may have to evacuate if flooding reached the level it did in 1987.

“Thankfully, the water never made it across Water Street,” Esler said. “It reached the yellow line on Water Street but never crossed over.”

He said some people in the lower levels of the Hathaway building were told to leave because of the water level, and Central Maine Power Co. shut off power to the building.

Fire officials helped to clear trees that fell around the city that were not entangled in wires, but CMP addressed the tree issues where wires were involved, he said.

“Once CMP untangled the mess, public works spent hours and hours and hours clearing the roadways and put up barricades around town to keep people safe,” he said.


A tree fell on a police cruiser, causing significant damage, and the city is applying to its insurance company to repair it, he said.


The city during the storm opened up its emergency operations center on the second floor of the fire station and coordinated with city officials, Waterville Schools Superintendent Peter Hallen and representatives from both MaineGeneral Health and Northern Light Inland Hospital.

A unique situation they needed to address involved people who were in homes and on oxygen, according to Esler.

“Because of the prolonged power outages, people with oxygen had oxygen generators at home and they essentially ran out of oxygen so the fire department deployed multiple generators around town,” he said.

Dylan Koza carries work equipment Tuesday, Dec. 19, as he evacuates his apartment at the Hathaway Creative Center, seen in the background, on Water Street in Waterville. Koza and his significant other, Olivia Koza, lost both their cars when the Kennebec River flooded the parking lot of their building. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

City Hall was without power and closed for two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Kaenrath. The City Hall annex at 46 Front St. was opened and operated on a small generator. At one point there were eight people there on oxygen, according to Esler. He said that when Waterville Junior High School got power back on Tuesday, it was opened as a warming center and the people were moved there. At one point there were a total of 17 people staying overnight at the school, including those who are unhoused and people who had no heat in their homes, he said.


Once the Red Cross established an emergency shelter at the Augusta Civic Center (which is different than a warming center because it has cots and is better equipped to house people), Waterville closed its warming centers and drove people to Augusta, according to Esler.

To prepare for future emergencies, the Waterville City Council will consider items on its agenda next month, one of which is to purchase a generator for 46 Front St. It is an item the city had requested even before last week’s storm, according to Esler.

“We knew we had a deficiency, and this event has really solidified the need for that generator,” he said.

Esler says the city doesn’t have an emergency shelter with cots, blankets and other items, and he thinks officials need to take a good look at how Waterville can prepare for more extreme events.

Asked what he recommends residents do to be prepared for future storms, Esler said they should have bottled water, batteries, flashlights and a form of communication such as a cellphone so they can contact local police and fire officials. When it is very cold, people with no heat will need to get to a warming center, he said. Chimneys should be inspected annually by certified chimney sweeps and if people want to run generators, they must be outside with the exhaust pointed away from any openings in the house such as exhaust vents, stove hood vents and open windows, according to Esler.

He recommends that if people buy generators, they contact an electrician to hook them up in safe areas.

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