Hundreds forced from homes in ME

May 5, 2008

The melting of this year's record snowfall is producing record flooding in Northern Maine towns. United Church of Christ disaster response coordinator indicates UCC families and churches are safe and damage assessments have just begun.

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Lori Whittemore, UCC Maine Conference, disaster response coordinator, has provided an initial report that indicates UCC families and churches are safe – damage assessments have just begun.  As clean up begins, it is anticipated that numbers of people will need assistance with repairing their homes.  The United Church of Christ hopes to be part of the ecumenical efforts that will restore lives by assisting people back into their homes.  The United Church of Christ, National Disaster Ministries is seeking $50,000 for the long term recovery efforts.  Following is current information as of this date.

This past winter Aroostook County, ME set snowfall records with more than 200-inches, but Thursday new records were set – this time for flooding.

At least 100 homes have been flooded and 600 people evacuated after the St. John River spilled its banks. The International Bridge, which crosses the St. John between Fort Kent and Clair, New Brunswick, has been closed because of the flooding. The river crested Thursday at about 31 feet, about four higher than flood stage and the previous record that had been set nearly 30 years ago.

Aroostook County is in most northeastern corner of Maine, bordering the Province of New Brunswick in Canada. And there are only 74,000 residents in this vast county, the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

In Fort Kent, James Woodward, pastor of the Christ Church Congregational, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, said he expects his congregation will be involved in disaster recovery efforts.

"The bank is underwater and the mail is not being delivered," said Woodward, of the physical impediments the community faces before it can start the clean-up.  Woodward is also a high school teacher and his school, like many others, was closed Thursday as the sun shone brightly. Woodward said the rivers are starting to recede, and he expects it to be a very busy weekend in town when the cleanup starts. "The church has been open for anyone who needs a place to stay," he said.

No one stayed, but Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross has set up a shelter in the Sports Center at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Mike Sirota, the chapter's press officer, said the shelter opened Wednesday and will remain open until Friday, May 2. Sirota said 15 people took shelter at the university and 59 meals have been served.

Sirota said the Pine Tree Chapter is also working with the nearby towns of Island Falls, Washburn and Mattawamkeag to help with their non-affiliated Red Cross shelters there.

Claudia Stevens, executive director of the United Way in Presque Isle, farther south from Fort Kent, said her agency must wait for the cleanup to start before anything can be done to help the residents.  "Things are under control," she said. "There is nothing we can do right now."

Stevens' family owns a cabin on a lake about 15 miles south of Fort Kent. Fort Kent is the intersecting point for the Fish and St John rivers, which carry water from the many lakes and interconnecting streams in the region. Stevens said the snow was about three feet deep before the heavy rains and warmer temperatures started the flooding.

"In the woods," she said, "there was there much snow left."

Woodward has lived in Fort Kent for nine years, and he said he's never experienced anything like the current flooding that has engulfed Fort Kent.  "It's the worst thing I have ever seen," he said.  And many of the lifelong residents he knows in the community agree, he added.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

1. Pray for people who live in communities affected by floods.

2.  To help those affected by disasters you may, send gifts payable to your congregation marked for "Emergency USA" with the request they be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries.

OR

3. Send gifts, made out to Wider Church Ministries and marked in the memo portion "Emergency USA" to the Office for Global Sharing of Resources; Wider Church  Ministries; 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.

OR

4. Make a secure on-line donation.

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