WATERVILLE — Firefighters and other emergency crews responded to a major flood behind a mall off  The Concourse early Sunday morning where a water main broke, flooding the Goodwill store’s basement with 8 feet of water and creating a hazardous situation because outside propane tanks and electrical boxes were submerged.

The fire department deployed a rescue boat into the flooded area and Firefighter Drew Corey donned a cold water suit. Tethered by a rope, Corey entered the waist-deep water to try to find and clear a storm drain behind the stores.

Workers pumped water from the store basement through a hose that exited the building through a door where people donate goods, sending the water into storm drains on Spring Street.

Waterville Fire Chief Shawn Esler said the 12-inch water main behind the mall dumped about 8 feet of water into the Goodwill basement and initially, the flooded area behind the stores was nearly 5 feet deep. Crews were notified of the problem just after 7 a.m.

“It’s going to be millions of gallons of water,” he said, adding that the damage will be in the thousands of dollars.

Esler pointed to propane tanks moving around in water behind Goodwill.

“As you can see, the tanks have lifted and shifted because they float, so that’s why we’re deploying the boat. Some of the dumpsters are actually floating. Several transformers have exploded here this morning. Electrical cabinets are under water as well.”

He said crews had to approach the area with caution.

“We couldn’t do any of this without first isolating power to the transformers because initially, it was unknown whether all of this water was energized,” Esler said. “These guys did a really good job isolating the area, calling for resources, making sure everything was handled safely. It’s not every day that you see the boat deployed on The Concourse.”

Workers from Kennebec Water District, Waterville Sewerage District, Central Maine Power Co., police and AmeriGas responded to the scene, where stores remained closed as CMP had shut the power  off.

Roger Crouse, general manager of Kennebec Water District, said the cause of the water break is unknown, but oftentimes in the spring when frost is leaving the ground, such breaks occur.

“The water main was installed in 1966 —  it’s a 12-inch water main and that’s why there is so much damage,” Crouse said around 12:30 p.m. Sunday. “The crews are working right now on the repair. We’ve got it shut down so we were able to stop the flow.”

He said the pipe, which in 5 or 6 feet in the ground, had 80 or 90 pounds of pressure going through it.

“Things fail and we got right on this as quickly as we could and we’re doing the repair,” he said, adding that the main should be repaired within a few hours.

Some people may notice their drinking water is discolored, but Crouse said it is safe to drink.

“We’ve got 155 miles of pipe throughout the communities we serve — a lot of old pipes, a lot of pipes that need to be repaired. This is what happens sometimes with older pipes.”

Earlier, Esler, who was called to the scene Sunday by fire Capt. Eion Pelletier, overlooked the scene from a railing off Elm Street where the flood was up against a concrete wall. Esler said Corey and other emergency workers were looking underwater for a total of three drains to unplug. Corey  used a metal detector in the water to find a drain. Waterville call fire Lt. Jim Roy, call Firefighter Cormick Frizzell and a Sewerage District worker were in the boat.

“This is going to be significant damage,” Esler said. “Water damage is extreme, especially when it gets into our buildings. It is as destructive as fire.”

He said he called City Manager Michael Roy to notify him of the emergency.

Cardboard, plastic and other debris floated in the brown water behind the mall, which also houses Dollar General, Oakland Family Care, Save-A-Lot and Dollar Tree.

Kennebec Water District used an excavator to help repair the water main, which cause the earth to sink into a big hole.

A shift supervisor at Goodwill sat outside the front of the store as crews worked behind it. She said she came to work around 7:30 a.m. Sunday and saw fire trucks in the lot and the water had pooled behind the store. She said she was not authorized to speak on the record, but said store representatives hope the business will open on Monday.

Outside Dollar General, store manager Amanda Little said she had been there since 6 a.m. Sunday.

“When I went into the office, the power went out and that was after 7,” she said.

Little said there was no water in the basement of Dollar General, though she was not sure if the store would open to customers Sunday.

“I’m just waiting on what the fire department says,” she said.

Around noon, officials said most of the water had been drained from behind the mall.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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