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Buckled roads, condemned homes, fishery losses: Storm cleanup continues for coastal communities

Damage in Wells, Maine during a storm on January 13, 2023.
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Damage in Wells, Maine during a storm on January 13, 2024.

Cleanup continues in many of the coastal towns in southern Maine that were inundated by Saturday's astronomical tides, high winds and heavy rain.

Several roads that experienced historic damage in Wells are reopening. Construction dumpsters have been placed around the town for homeowners to dispose of debris and damaged items from their homes.

"It's astounding to walk along the shorefront and look at the devastation by our public properties, but also by our homeowners," said Wells town manager Michael Pardue.

A damaged home in Wells, Maine from a storm on January 13, 2024.
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A damaged home in Wells, Maine from a storm on January 13, 2024.

The town's code enforcement office had condemned nine homes as of Tuesday morning, Pardue said.

In Kennebunkport, Colony Beach remained closed to vehicular traffic on Tuesday because officials said the parking area is unstable. Public sidewalks have buckled.

Town manager Laurie Smith said a lot of sand has also been displaced from the beach, and municipal workers have been clearing debris from the roads.

"We're talking everything from seaweed to people's docks, people's stairs, porches," she said. "A variety of things have washed ashore. Of course, we're seeing a lot of lobster traps and buoys."

Flooding remains a problem in a neighborhood near Goose Rocks Beach. Smith said the ground is so saturated that about a foot of water remains in the neighborhood.

Last Wednesday’s severe storm is also complicating cleanup efforts. Smith estimates municipal workers have helped pump out at least 30 private cellars over the last few days due to the storms.

Kennebunkport has experienced a growing number of strong storms and astronomical high tides in recent years, Smith said. But Saturday's storm was worse than any in memory.

"Right now the amount of issues we have to address feels a little overwhelming, and it's overwhelming for our staff who worked all weekend on these various issues," she said. "We're trying to get to base zero."

And in Wells, structural engineers are planning to visit Wednesday to assess the damage to public seawalls, the Drakes Island bridge and Webhannet Drive, Pardue said.

Meanwhile, Maine's coastal fishing communities are confronting significant losses from last week's storms.

The storm surge and high winds inflicted extensive damage to infrastructure that will take months to repair, says Jennifer Seavey, chief programs officer at the Island Institute. Seavey says docks, boats, traps- even power lines to coastal islands bore the brunt of the storm.

"A lot of it is still being discovered and it's going to take a little bit of time to figure it all out, but it's going to be across the board, pretty comprehensive impacts," she said.

It will take months to assess the damage done to coastal fishing communities, let alone repair and replace it.

And Seavey says the infrastructure can’t just be replaced, it will have to be improved in preparation for future storms.

"As everyone- municipalities, public, private- are recovering from this moment, they need to think about rebuilding in a more resilient fashion for the climate that we're in right now which is a different climate than the one that most of these facilities, buildings, infrastructure were built in," she said.

Seavey urges residents to report the damage to the Maine Emergency Management Agency, to help the state assess the impacts and the need for recovery funding.

Kaitlyn Budion is Maine Public’s Bangor correspondent, joining the reporting team after several years working in print journalism.