June 25, 2018
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Wind storm topples Franklin church steeple

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Some Mainers were still contending over the weekend with damage from Thursday’s storm that knocked out power, washed at least one boat ashore and, in Franklin, brought a church steeple crashing to the ground.

Approximately 300 Bangor Hydro customers remained without power Saturday morning, but by 3 p.m. Saturday the electricity distribution company’s online outage map indicated only a few isolated outages in coastal Hancock and Washington counties. Central Maine Power indicated Saturday morning on its website that it also had about 300 customers who still were without power.

Late Sunday afternoon, Bangor Hydro did not list any outages on its website, while CMP listed only 23 customers without power, including 20 in Knox County.

On Thursday afternoon, as many as 65,000 customers across the state did not have electricity because of the storm, which caused gusts of more than 40 mph throughout the state in some places topped 50 or even 60 mph.

In Franklin, the powerful gusts toppled the steeple of the United Methodist Church on Main Street.

On Saturday, the spire remained on the ground next to the building. Debris littered the area around where the steeple lay, while some stray pieces of lumber stuck out from the roof where the steeple broke off.

Pastor Janice Rhenow, who also serves as pastor of the Columbia Falls United Methodist Church in Washington County, said Saturday the church has contacted its insurance company and, in the meantime, cannot hold services in the damaged building. Instead, Sunday’s service was held at the home of Diane Green, one of the church members.

“It’s a struggling church as it is,” Rhenow said. “It’s mostly older people [who are members].”

Green said that the church has about eight to 10 people in its winter congregation and approximately double that in the summer. She said the land on which the church was built was donated to the church organization in 1852. The building probably was constructed in the years immediately following, she added.

Green said it is fortunate that the steeple didn’t fall toward the road, where it could have struck a passing vehicle. The steeple fell sometime in the night, before the sun came up Friday, she said. No one heard it fall above the gusting wind, she said, but a neighbor who can see it from her house noticed in the morning that it had fallen from view.

“I won’t let myself feel the pain of it,” Green said about the damaged house of worship.

Green said Sunday afternoon that the morning service went without a hitch. The nine people who showed up at her house even held communion, passing bread and grape juice to each other as they sat at her dining room table.

“Everything was rather informal,” Green said. “It worked really easily, [but] I think we’re looking forward to getting back in the church.”

Green said repairs have to be made to the church building, even if the steeple is not immediately replaced. She said congregants were expected to meet at her house again on Monday to discuss how they should move forward. If the church still cannot be used this coming weekend, she said, she or another member will offer their homes as a location to hold the service, she said.

Rhenow said she hopes funds can be raised to replace the steeple. She chuckled at the irony of the church being affected by an ‘act of God.’

“I don’t think God pinpointed our church,” Rhenow said. “The wind is very powerful.”

Thursday’s storm also caused problems for the owner of the Joanne V fishing vessel in the Tremont village of Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island. The boat broke free of its mooring and was washed up on the rocks near the mouth of the harbor, where it remained Saturday morning.

David Schlaefer, Tremont’s harbormaster, said Saturday that wind gusts up to 65 mph blew the boat onto the shore, where it got pounded between the waves and rocks for more than two hours. No other boat could get near it to try to pull it off, he said.

Stewart Murphy, the boat’s owner, said Sunday afternoon that he and a few other people spent the day cutting the boat into pieces and hauling them off the rocks. The bottom was completely smashed to bits and could not be repaired.

“The boat’s in the garbage can right now,” he said. “There was nothing left.”

Murphy, a lobstermen, said he had the boat for eight years. He said it was insured, but in his policy was a clause saying that he had to have it out of the water and put in storage each winter between Dec. 1 and March 1. He said he was unaware of the clause and, because it was still in the water when it was damaged, he will not get his claim reimbursed. And he still has to make boat payments to his bank, he added.

“I’ll figure it out somehow,” Murphy said.

Chris Berry, operational unit controller with the Coast Guard Sector Northern New England, said Saturday that he was not aware of any other boats that may have come off their moorings or washed ashore from Thursday’s gale.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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