We continue our look back at the 1994 ice jam flooding of Fort Fairfield. It’s the 20th anniversary of that flooding disaster. Shawn Cunningham reports on the impact the disaster had on local businesses.
(ARCHIVED FOOTAGE FROM JON GULLIVER’S 1994 PACKAGE)
“Its a scene that won’t soon be forgotten in Fort Fairfield…”
Twenty years later, the businesses and the people working them on Main Street STILL remember the flood and all the chaos that ensued days after….Workers at the IGA couldn’t believe their eyes when the water starting pouring in…
James Bruce is an Employee for the Hillside IGA and says “When the big flood happened it went right over the banks actually made its way into the store and we had to clean everything up wasn’t too bad in here but there was water and crap all over the floor.” Another IGA Employee Charlene Argraves says “It was horrible, I tried to come downtown and couldn’t go down because it was just so flooded and my little guy had pneumonia and we couldn’t go downtown.”
(MORE FROM JON’S ARCHIVED PACKAGE)
Its one thing to see larger than life images of ice chunks floating through the streets of downtown Fort Fairfield…BUT TO LIVE IT. Its surreal says Valerie Bernier who was just hired at the local credit union days before the flood.
“I was hired and three days later, the water came in and we flooded and I didn’t know if I was gonna have a job or not. But the water was probably up to my neck, yeah it was bad,” says Bernier.
SC: Were you scared and what did you do?
VB:”um we stayed there as long as we could but we were told to get out and just go to dry ground.”
And luckily she did. But she says the memory of it all still scares her to this day. She still had her job and most importantly her life. Further down main street, another business that sustained damage was United Insurance.
Penny Johnston remembers the day of the flood very well and says “The water started coming in real quick we went out back and we had sandbags out back so we taped the back door, put the sandbags up to the door and ran for our cars and got off the street.” “I remember the next morning when we arrived at work the water was up to this window and all of the filing cabinets were floating everywhere with all of our files everywhere,” adds Marilyn Gardner, another United Insurance employee.
At the time, officials had estimated about three million dollars worth of damage to the community…including local homes, businesses and property. Those who lived through it say this time of year always makes them cringe a little bit, high waters can be a reminder of the worst that can happen. “Right down here she was half way up the buildings everything was evacuated destroyed everything actually,” says Bruce.
Gardner adds “We always had flooding in our basement right up to almost coming into our living room but to have it to the extent that it was it was amazing the cars in the parking lot were covered with water, it was just amazing.”
Tomorrow night, Shawn concludes her retrospective by examining how Fort Fairfield’s dyke is helping to prevent future flood damage like what happened in 1994.