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Floods Wash Out Bridges, Burst Dam In New England

April 2, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Rivers swollen from rain and melting snow continued to rise today in northern Maine as some of the worst New England flooding in years burst a dam, washed out roads and carried off a historic covered bridge.

A state of emergency remained in effect today in Maine, and freeze warnings were issued again in the South as fruit growers tallied the damage from three days of record cold that agriculture specialists said devastated some orchards.

″We really got clobbered,″ said Robert Dickey, president of the Georgia Peach Council and a grower in Musella. He said he may have lost 90 percent of the buds on his trees.

In western Michigan, strong winds and blowing snow reduced visibility to near zero today, while a warning went into effect along the Lake Michigan shore from Gary, Ind., to the Straits of Mackinac, where waves of 6 to 12 feet were expected to cause beach erosion and flooding.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service posted a winter storm watch for tonight and Friday over northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia.

Early today, a 61-degree reading in Key West, Fla., the southernmost city in the 48 continental states, broke a 100-year-old record low by one degree. Daytona Beach’s 40 degrees and Miami’s 54 also set record lows.

A spring thaw coupled with a blustery storm that dropped up to 5 inches of rain on Wednesday caused the flooding, which was made more severe by snowcover up to three times heavier than normal in the mountains of New England.

″The water is going to stay high for a while,″ said Springfield, Mass., Civil Defense director Albert Berte.

In southeastern Maine, rain-swollen rivers crested today along municipal corridors around Augusta and Lewiston as homeowners, shopkeepers and emergency officials tried to measure the damage.

″People have gotten through the night,″ said Bob Caspel of the state’s Bureau of Civil Emergency Preparedness. ″No real assessments have been made.″

More than 130 roads were reported closed and three state-maintained bridges were washed away. No major evacuations were reported, but hundreds sought temporary lodging as low-lying areas remained awash.

The Kennebec River crested in Augusta at at 34.5 feet this morning, above a landmark 1936 flood level. In Lewiston, the Androscoggin River was thought to be at its peak, at 23 feet, 10 feet above flood stage. Further north, however, the St. John, Aroostook and Penobscot rivers continued to rise, the weather service said.

The rain was blamed for a school bus accident in Alton, N.H., that sent eight children to a hospital with minor injuries. Two remained hospitalized in good condition today. In Nashua, surging waters hampered a search for a person who witnesses said fell into the Nashua River and is presumed drowned.

In Dover, Maine, the Piscataquis River knocked down a service station retaining wall and carried off three gasoline storage tanks containing up to 10,000 gallons each, authorities said. A bridge downstream was closed because of a threat of explosion.

A damburst late Tuesday on the Kenmere Reservoir in Berlin, Conn., spilled water onto a golf course and carried off 40 feet of a backyard, cutting a chasm in the yard 30 feet deep.

″It was just an awful noise,″ said homeowner Shirley Kucharczyk. ″We heard rocks tumbling. We heard the water rushing through the wooded area of our backyard. We heard trees cracking.″

In Maine, a concrete bridge over the surging Sandy River near Farmington collapsed, while the Piscataquis River carried off the historic Lowe’s Covered Bridge in Guilford, which washed up 8 miles downstream, authorities said.

A house, a couple of garages and a 15,000-gallon oil tank were swept into the Kennebec River in Winslow. Near-record flood levels were reported along the river, which was expected to crest today in Augusta 23 feet above flood stage.

Roads were flooded in Skowhegan as the flow rate on the Kennebec broke the record set during the benchmark 1936 flood, said the National Weather Service.

At least 300 residents of Maine’s Androscoggin Valley took refuge in shelters, while about 75 families evacuated from the Plymouth, N.H., area on Tuesday waited to return home today.

Sections of more than 125 roads had been closed by late Wednesday in Maine, officials said.

The Pemigewasset River damaged about a dozen businesses near Holderness, N.H. ″As far as I understand, their ceilings are floating away inside. There’s 12 to 15 feet of water in the roadway,″ said William Murray, a police and fire dispatcher.

Brian Bisonnette returned to his Rochester, Vt., home to find his De Lorean sports car afloat on eddies of the White River that flooded his garage.

″It’s something they didn’t include in the advertising,″ he said. ″Actually, they float quite nicely. I wouldn’t take it on Lake Champlain, mind you, but at least I know its airtight.″

In the Great Lakes region, the second storm from Canada in as many days dropped at least 7 inches of snow Wednesday on Marquette, Mich., and was blamed for a 30- to 40-car pileup on Interstate 96 in Oakland County, Mich.

″All our snowplows were put away, so we had to take them out of the moth balls,″ said Jack Schutter, a Muskegon County, Mich., sheriff’s deputy. ″It kind of caught us with our pants down.″

As much as 18 inches of snow fell in Munising in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in what officials called the worst snowfall of the winter there.

Low temperature records were broken or tied Wednesday in at least 40 cities from Texas to Florida and north to Maryland. Atlanta dipped to 27, toppling a record that had stood since 1919, and Macon, Ga., hit 29, its coldest on record for April.

″We have (peach) orchards that have no living fruit in them at all,″ said Stephen Myers, a horticulture professor at the University of Georgia. ″As far as being able to say what percentage will produce a full crop, it’s too early to tell.″

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