Wednesday’s storms dumped more than 5 inches of rain, washing out roads and yards.
RUMFORD — Stephenie Ackerman took a break from sweeping silt from the porch alongside her house on South Rumford Road on Thursday to point out where she and her grandson had planted a garden.
That section of yard had become a yawning chasm edged by precarious banks along her driveway and chunks of pavement from the caved-in road. “We had pumpkins and green beans,” she said. “God only knows where they are now.”
Ackerman was caring for her 2-year-old grandson Wednesday night when the downpours hit.
“Rain, thunder, lightning – everything going every which way. All I could see was this huge thing of water,” she said, gesturing to the hillside where the creek jumped its banks and rushed toward her house, eventually uprooting trees along her property.
At one point the rain and debris appeared to be swirling in her front yard. “It was so loud,” she said. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
Ackerman and her neighbors bore the brunt of a violent microburst that dumped more than 5 inches of rain in two to three hours Wednesday, causing flash flooding that rerouted creeks and littered boulders across lawns.
“There’s more damage than I’ve seen in the time I’ve been here,” said Police Chief Stacy Carter, who has been with the department for 25 years. “We have some complete roads washed out, exposing water and sewer lines. The Hall Hill Road, some of that (washout) is seven feet deep.”
There were no reports of injuries, although one woman was stranded in her car briefly when it got stuck in water that was covering a road, Carter said. Ackerman’s daughter, Sophie Post, was blocked from getting home from work five miles away until a neighbor gave her a ride on an all-terrain vehicle.
State road crews fanned out Thursday on South Rumford, Hall Hill and Wyman Hill roads, working to shore up road shoulders and secure culverts, with more rainstorms expected Thursday night.
“We’re hauling gravel and filling washouts. There’s no shortage of them,” said Shawn MacFarlane, who led a Maine Department of Transportation crew on Wyman Hill Road. “We’re basically trying to put everything back together so the roads are safe.”
MacFarlane said Rumford was hit hard, but there was no damage north of Rumford or south of Dixfield.
“I’d never seen water run like it did last night,” he said.
MacFarlane said he had three crews working to make the roads passable before Thursday night’s storms. “If Mother Nature deals us a hand, we’ll deal with it,” he said.
Torrential rains battered much of the state late Wednesday, knocking out power for thousands of residents. Rumford, in central Oxford County, appears to have gotten the worst of it.
“They just had a line of storms that set up over the area. Kind of like a train – continuous, one after the other,” said Mike Kistner of the National Weather Service in Gray. The storms delivered 5 to 6 inches of rain over two to three hours, he said.
Heavy rain was expected Thursday night in northern Cumberland and Oxford counties, possibly hitting Rumford again, he said.
Hurricane Arthur is expected to stay far out to sea but could cause heavy rain, high surf and strong currents along Maine’s coast on Friday, he said.
On South Rumford Road, Ted Orino lives across the street from Ackerman. On Thursday, one side of his yard was a beautifully manicured, undisturbed lawn and the other was a wash of rocks and mud.
A creek runs alongside his property, through a culvert beneath the road and into the Androscoggin River, the waterway that built this mill town.
As the rain pounded down Wednesday, the creek raged. “You could hear the rocks rolling,” Orino said. “It sounded like thunder.”
For five minutes, he said, the lightning and thunder were simultaneous. “You never heard such noise in your life.”
As state crews work to repair roads, people like Orino and Ackerman face huge cleanup tasks.
Erosion left the underground electrical wires that serve Ackerman’s house exposed across a washout, the utility pole barely in place.
Orino contacted his insurance company and learned that since his house wasn’t damaged, he can’t make a claim, even though he expects the cleanup to cost about $5,000.
He said he planned to call the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which responds to disasters.
“I might as well laugh as cry. There’s nothing I can do about it,” he said.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: