SACO — Camp Ellis hummed with activity Monday as property owners and caretakers worked to undo some of the damage done by a historic winter rainstorm that pounded the Maine coast on Saturday.

Men driving skid steers cleared piles of sand that powerful winds and waves dumped on streets, lawns and parking lots throughout this seaside village – a warren of seasonal and year-round homes and businesses that is normally quiet on cold winter days.

The Camp Ellis Pier, at the mouth of the Saco River, suffered massive damage when an unprecedented high tide lifted more than 45 connected floats and dropped them on top of their pilings, said harbormaster Dan Chadbourne.

“I’ve been here all my life, and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Chadbourne, 56. “The water was waist-deep in this parking lot. I’ve never seen it come that high.”

Several huge piles of sand line the edge of the pier’s parking lot, which was cleared by public works crews. At the storm’s peak, waves were pushing so hard ashore, Chadbourne had to retreat from his usual storm stakeout at the back of the lot.

A large rock rests along Eastern Avenue as visitors inspect storm damage in Camp Ellis on Sunday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

As the storm wore on, Chadbourne saw walls of water burst through some buildings and push others off their foundations. Trees, dune grass and other natural features were stripped from beaches and marshes from Camp Ellis to Old Orchard Beach and beyond, he said.


A tangle of gutters, latticework, outdoor furniture, seaweed and other debris littered the neighborhood Monday.

“Everybody down here’s got damage in one form or another,” Chadbourne said.

Saturday’s storm struck only three days after a similar storm hit the region, making it a double whammy for Camp Ellis and other communities. Again, a powerful storm battered the coast with waves up to 20 feet, wind gusts up to 60 mph, at least 2 inches of rain and record high tides.

A preliminary measure of high tide in Portland Harbor peaked at 14.57 feet, exceeding the previous record high tide of 14.17 feet set on Feb. 7, 1978, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.

A combination of factors contributed to the record high tide, including a massive storm surge that arrived during an astronomical high tide, pushing water levels 3 feet or more above the normal high tide line.

The worst damage appears to be concentrated along Maine’s southern coast, but there’s damage Down East as well.


Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolich, spent some time on Monday surveying the damage in her district, which includes Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg.

“I saw trees knocked over and erosion of up to six or seven feet,” Hepler said, adding that some summertime cottages were also affected.  “We’re telling people to record and report damages.”

Hepler said she saw lobster traps and lots of woody debris washed up along the beach and the sand dunes. She said the oceanside deck of a popular eatery, Spinney’s Restaurant, was washed away, but the building itself appeared to be OK.

Hepler said Reid State Park in Georgetown also sustained damage, with a stairway and part of a boardwalk being washed out.

Damage was also observed on the numerous fishing docks and wharves in the area, she said, with lobstermen trying to recover whatever gear they could find.

Despite the damage, Hepler said her constituents were taking it in stride and doing whatever they can to clean up the damage.


“It was really heartening to see how people pull together,” she said. “They come down and help – if they can dig out a porch or sweep debris off part of the building.”

Municipal officials say the hardest-hit areas will take days to clean up, while larger repairs will take months.

Mike Chasse’s home and three businesses beside the Camp Ellis Pier were badly damaged by the storm and were still blanketed in at least 2 feet of tightly compacted sand Monday morning.

Paddle boards and other equipment that he leases at Old Orchard Beach Watersports had floated away. His bait and tackle shop had been submerged in 4 feet of water. A large ice machine from his lobster roll shack wound up on the other side of the pier parking lot.

Mike Chasse’s property in Camp Ellis has been damaged before, but he said Monday that this is the worst he has seen in 10 years of ownership. Sofia Aldinio/Staff Photographer

Fortunately, Chasse’s home was spared. High water came within an inch of crossing the threshold of his cottage, he said. He also counts himself lucky to have found a skid steer to clear the sand from his property. Tyler Gobeil, who owns a landscaping company, delivered it on a trailer late Monday morning.

“Trying to get one of these tractors right now, with everyone trying to clean up, is nearly impossible,” Chasse said. “So my buddy coming through for me today is huge.”


Gobeil shrugged off his friend’s praise.

“When you live in a beach town,” he said, “you do what you gotta do to help out at a time like this.”

Cleaning up in the days ahead is going to take patience, Chadbourne said. People from other communities could help out just by avoiding storm-damaged areas that could work faster without so many drive-by gawkers.

Chadbourne admits to being a bit daunted by the prospect of putting the pier back together. It’s an important municipal resource that serves about 200 commercial fishermen and recreational boaters each summer.

But he’s concerned that climate change will bring more frequent record-breaking storms and the damage they leave behind.

“Moving forward, I’m not sure what we’re going to be able to do,” he said.

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this story.

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