Record rainfall in Portland causes flooding, road washouts, evacuation of hundreds

Posted Aug. 14, 2014, at 6:26 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 14, 2014, at 2:08 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A record-breaking storm topping 6 inches of rainfall overnight Wednesday forced the evacuation of hundreds of people in Portland, caused widespread flooding and washed out busy downtown streets.

Portland city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin on Thursday told reporters the flash flooding forced the evacuation of eight properties in the city, including 200 people who were staying in the La Quinta Inn on Park Avenue.

Grondin said Portland’s emergency dispatch received 116 water-related calls Wednesday night, contributing to 841 total calls over the 24-hour period, a figure “several hundred higher than a normal day.” Among the infrastructure damage seen in Maine’s largest city, which the National Weather Service reported was drenched by 6.28 inches of rainfall, was a wash-out of High Street near its busy intersection with Commercial Street.

“We received 6 inches over the whole day, but between 7:30 and 9 [p.m.], we received three inches of rain,” said Timothy Nangle of the Portland Fire Department early Thursday afternoon. “Some of the really troubled areas were in the area of Deering Oaks. Down on High Street between York and Commercial streets received major damage, and public works crews are down there trying to resolve that issue and make sure that everything is safe.”

Portland’s historic City Hall saw basement flooding and sewage backup, while the city’s adjacent Merrill Auditorium suffered from sewage and water damage in the bathrooms, lobby, backstage area, rehearsal hall and dressing rooms. But Grondin said crews have been working to clean the venue since 10 p.m. Wednesday and a Sunday concert there by singer-songwriter Jackson Browne is scheduled to go on as planned.

The pond in Deering Oaks Park and a city traffic division facility at 65 Hanover St. both flooded as well. Thirteen manhole covers that popped in the city during the heaviest flooding periods have been replaced.

Wednesday’s rain caused flash flooding in southern Maine and knocked out power to thousands across the state. More than 5,000 Central Maine Power customers remained without electricity Thursday morning, although that number was quickly declining.

Portland saw widespread flooding after 6.28 inches of rain fell, a record amount, according to the National Weather Service. Several streets were closed Wednesday night and cars became stranded in deep water, WGME reported at the time.

Marginal Way, High Street and Preble Street are among streets that saw high water. Authorities urged residents not to drive in the deep water and were forced to rescue stranded motorists from their cars, according to CBS 13.

Among the Portland businesses affected was Coast City Comics at 634 Congress St. Owner Tristan Gallagher said his basement was flooded with between 6-8 inches of water, and he and others at the store must now go through nearly 18,000 comic books that were stored there to see which ones are salvageable.

“It’s just a couple of weeks of extra work,” Gallagher said.

He said he lost signed editions of bestselling author Joe Hill’s “Locke & Key” comics, as well as a valuable No. 1 first-edition printing of Robert Crumb’s “Mr. Natural.”

As much as 7 feet of water flooded basements in Freeport overnight, and left a number of roads impassable Thursday morning.

Summer Street was closed when 7 feet of water floated an oil tank in the basement of a home there, Freeport Fire Chief Darrel Fournier said. Firefighters shut off the power until the basement could be pumped out.

Residents of Somerset condominiums were unable to get to their homes, he said. Crews pumped 3 feet of water from a number of other basements.

Hunter and South Freeport roads, as well as Summer Street, were closed because of the flooding.

In hard-hit Lincoln County, the Southport Swing Bridge, the only bridge connecting Southport Island to the mainland, was closed Thursday morning until just before 10:30 a.m. because of lack of power, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.

Casey Stevens, assistant to the director of Lincoln County Emergency Management, said four roads in the county remained closed at 9:30 a.m., including Route 175, also known as Wiscasset Road, in Whitefield; Flanders Corner Road in Waldoboro; and Lower Pond Road and Morrison Road in Bristol.

In eastern Maine, thousands lost power overnight. Emera Maine reported about 1,300 customers lost power in Deer Isle and Stonington, an outage attributed to gusting winds bringing tree limbs down on power lines. Just as crews restored power to that area early Thursday morning, another 3,300 lost power Eddington, Brewer, Holden, Dedham, Clifton and Lucerne.

Emera Maine reported later Thursday morning more than 1,000 customers are in the dark in northern Penobscot and southern Aroostook counties.

The bulk of the outages are in Island Falls, where about 734 customers were without power.

It wasn’t immediately clear if those outages were weather-related.

At 9 a.m., Central Maine Power reported 5,000 customers without power in Lincoln County and 2,400 in Sagadahoc County, but by 2 p.m., Lincoln County was down to 1,130 and Sagadahoc to 158 customers — although the number in Somerset had increased to about 1,000.

Outages were caused primarily by “a fair amount of wind overnight, and trees coming into contact with power lines, according to CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice.

“We expect everybody to be back online later today,” she said.

At 10 a.m., the National Weather Service in Gray canceled a flood warning for the Presumpscot River in Westbrook.

BDN reporter Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report.