BANGOR, Maine — It was 40 years ago today that a major coastal storm coupled with the season’s highest tides left parts of downtown Bangor under 15 feet of water in what many recall as the Flood of 1976.
Meteorologists at the time chalked up the historic flood to a perfect storm featuring driving rains and 100 mph wind gusts that battered the coastline, sending a surge of water up the Penobscot River at high tide, according to BDN archives. As a result, ice-choked waters rushed over the banks of the Kenduskeag Stream in the late morning of Feb. 2.
An estimated 200 cars parked in downtown lots were submerged, several businesses were flooded and power lines short-circuited, starting a number of small fires. When the water receded about three hours later, the flood and resulting electrical fires had left behind about $2.3 million in damage to the city, according to BDN records. That would be $9.5 million in today’s dollars.
Among the thousands of people affected by the flood were two women whose safety was at risk as they waited to be rescued from a parking lot while stranded amid the rushing waters of Kenduskeag Stream
Susan Biardi, then 21, ran from her secretarial job at the Equitable Life Association at 27 State St. in hopes of moving her newly paid-off Plymouth Duster from the Kenduskeag Plaza parking lot before the water made it impossible, according to a BDN article on the 25th anniversary of the flood.
No such luck.
“By the time I got out there and put it in reverse, the back of my car started floating,” said Biardi, who, after her car went under, hopped from car rooftop to car rooftop until her rescue about 15 minutes later. “I came home soaking wet.”
As Biardi waited atop the trunk of a bobbing car, she witnessed the dramatic rescue of Cynthia Calkins, a Bangor Savings Bank employee who was trapped in her car as the water rose around her.
Despite warnings from police to stay on shore, Harold Goss of Bangor dove into the icy current and pulled the young mother from her car as water filled the stranded vehicle, whose electric windows had shorted out in the up position.
The couple, who married months after the rescue but later divorced, gained national attention, appearing on the popular TV game show “To Tell the Truth” and receiving a slew of awards from local civic groups.
John Jensenius, a forecaster with the National Weather Service quoted in the 2001 BDN article, said it was a rare and powerful mix of weather that swamped the city’s waterfront and hammered the Down East coast with driving rain, whipping winds and high seas.
“Basically, it’s kind of like when the water sloshes the highest at the end of a bathtub,” Jensenius said of the massive swell of water that moved up Penobscot Bay. “Bangor just happened to be the end of the bathtub.”