25 Years Ago: The Flood of 1987
he Fairbanks Bridge, torn apart by flood waters on the Sandy River, April 1987. MDOT photo
March 31, 2012
AUGUSTA, MAINE -- 25 years ago this weekend, the State of Maine suffered one of the worst natural disasters in its history.
Maine had a normal snowpack, and normal flood potential in late March of 1987. However, a warm rainstorm brought 4 to 6 inches of rain to the mountains of Maine and New Hampshire, which combined with 6 or more inches of melted snow. The water ran over frozen ground, and streams and rivers began to rise. Flooding became disastrous on April 1, 1987 on Maine’s major rivers. The result:
- At least 2100 homes flooded; 215 destroyed, 240 with major damage
- At least 400 small businesses impacted
- Countless roads and bridges destroyed or damaged
- Fort Halifax historic site in Winslow washed away
- Losses estimated at over $100 million -- which equates to $200-plus million in today’s dollars
25 years later, many things have improved in the state:
- Innovative local acquisition and relocation projects in Winslow, Guilford, Allagash, Fort Fairfield, Canton and more have resulted in dozens of homes and businesses being moved out of harm’s way.
- Emergency management has become much more professional and effective statewide; the state to county to local network is strong across the state.
- Technological advances and improvements in interoperable communications make it easier to share information quickly among public officials, first responders and the public
- Code Enforcement Officer training and certification and outreach to surveyors, engineers, lenders and insurance agents has resulted in better understanding and implementation of floodplain management, mitigation measures and flood insurance programs, all of which reduce vulnerability to flooding.
- The coordination among federal and state agencies and Maine’s private sector river basin managers through the River Flow Advisory Commission is stronger than ever. Constant open information exchange among all parties leads not only to better forecasts and warnings, but also mitigation strategies.
Despite advances in mitigation and preparedness, there are always opportunities for improvement. A study by the University of Maine Land and Water Resources Center in 1987 noted that floods become disasters by virtue of the placement of people and property in their way. Contributing factors to flood damage cited in the report remain important to consider today:
- Urban development including buildings and parking lots can increase and pollute stormwater runoff;
- Development in the floodplain is at risk not only from flood water but from contamination and debris;
- Lack of preparation and awareness by property owners in the floodplain increases vulnerability dramatically;
- Shortcomings in warnings and the failure of people to take warnings seriously may result in life-threatening situations and additional property loss.
In theory, a flood of this magnitude should occur only once in a hundred years or more. In reality, it can happen at any time when the wrong weather factors come together. Though we cannot stop such a flood from occurring, we can all try to reduce its effects.
Maine communities can:
- Practice responsible floodplain management
- Prepare and practice realistic emergency plans to respond to floods
- Think ahead and plan for what it would take to recover economically from a major flood.
Maine residents and business owners can:
- Learn about their flood risk
- Make sure they have adequate flood insurance (homeowners and business insurance does not cover flood damage)
- Make sure they have emergency plans for their families and businesses
- “Stay tuned” to weather forecasts and warnings at all times
All this adds up to one very important message:
- Be ready, because it will happen again.
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