CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Caught in raging floodwaters Sunday afternoon during Tropical Storm Irene, Rob Roberts frantically tried to figure out how to get his family to safety.

On vacation with his wife and three young daughters, the 45-year-old from Toronto feared his van would be swept away any minute, as water poured across Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley.

After he was turned away by an innkeeper who said it was illegal to rent rooms during a power outage and was also considering evacuating, the family found some high ground and planned to hunker down in the van.

That’s when Robert Dupre invited the family to wait out the storm in his nearby home. The family joined Dupre and a friend cooking popcorn in the fireplace and heating Chef Boyardee ravioli over a camp stove, according to Roberts, speaking from a Montreal hotel Tuesday.

Roberts, an editor for the National Post newspaper, praised Dupre and his friend, Mike McKeon, for turning a harrowing tale into a lesson for his daughters, ages 4, 9 and 12.

“The girls learned that adversity happens and if you keep a calm head you can get through it, and they learned about the resilience of humanity and how kind people can be to each other,” he said.

Some very scary moments passed for the family before Dupre, 47, took the family into his home, according to Roberts.

At one point when rain water was cascading down from nearby mountains and streaming across the road, Roberts shared his fears with his wife, Charlene Sadler, 47.

“I turned to my wife and said, ‘If it gets any worse we’re not crossing any more roads,'” he said.

Thinking back about the terrifying experience, the father paused and stated his worst nightmare.

“If our (van) was taken into that river, it was not survivable,” he said.

When the family pulled their van into Dupre’s neighborhood to find high ground, that’s when Dupre and McKeon saw them and invited the family into the house. McKeon, 48, came up from Massachusetts before the storm to help Dupre with some home renovations, the men said Monday.

Before being taken in by Dupre, the family had stopped at the Carrabassett Inn along Route 27 to find shelter. But the innkeeper turned them away, citing laws against renting out rooms during a power outage, Roberts said.

“Her unwillingness to help was shocking; I can only imagine the flooding had freaked her out so badly she lost perspective,” he wrote in an email about the incident.

Mary Jacques, the owner of the inn, spoke Tuesday about why she denied shelter for the family.

Jacques said it is illegal to rent rooms when there is no power because of health concerns and other factors. She said, in addition to the power being out, floodwater was threatening the inn, which is in a flood plain.

“We were getting ready to evacuate ourselves,” she said.

Jacques ended up not evacuating Sunday. She said she understood how it was dangerous to send the family out into the storm, and justified her decision as one based on her own fears and uncertainty during the height of the storm.

“It was one of those situations where every minute was, do we stay or do we go,” Jacques said, referring to evacuating.

 

David Robinson — 861-9287

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