Officials prepare for possible flooding

Kathy McCarty, Special to The County
10 years ago

Local and state agencies are preparing for potential flooding this spring, to ensure citizens have access to necessities such as water in the event of an emergency.
“I’ve been monitoring the spring weather for the past few weeks and have noted some similarities to the flooding of 2008. We have a lot of snowpack and we still have thicker-than-normal ice, which sets the stage — under the right conditions — for some damaging spring floods,” said Hunger and Relief Services Program Director Dixie Shaw, with Catholic Charities Maine.

Shaw said in 2008 Catholic Charities personnel “worked diligently to react to the needs of the various flooded areas in The County and other organizations requesting assistance,” as she reflected on the devastation that occurred six years ago.
“I’ll never forget the morning I was call by Jason Hall, agency relations for Good Shepherd Food Bank, and asked ‘Dixie, what are you going to do about the flooding in the St. John Valley?’ I had to be brought up to speed quickly as to the severity of the issue,” said Shaw, who’d been at meetings in Augusta and returned the night before, unaware of the situation in northern Maine.
“I knew it had poured but had no clue what the effect had been on the folks in The Valley. I immediately told Jason I don’t know what the needs will be but get me some water up here; I don’t have much in my warehouse,'” continued Shaw, noting Hall organized two truckloads be delivered to the Caribou facility.
Shaw said the next step was to stop all normal operations at the food bank and that “we were operating in disaster mode and would be reacting to an as-needed operating procedure.”
She said it wasn’t long before calls for help were received.
“First it was for water. We trucked water for days throughout the St. John Valley, including Fort Kent, Van Buren and Eagle Lake. Then we got a call that Masardis and Island Falls were affected,” she said.
Next came a delivery of cleaning supplies from Church World Services in Maryland, requested by Catholic Charities.
“We also contacted the Red Cross as their national members began to arrive to assist with storing cots, off-loading satellite transmitters and assisting in setting up temporary command centers. Numerous meetings took place to make sure that all the players were working together and not getting in each other’s way,” said Shaw. “I heard a lot and I learned fast how many different organizations come together in a disaster.”
Agencies offering assistance included: local and national Red Cross groups, EMA, MEMA and FEMA.
“We had Southern Baptist, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and VOAD, which stands for Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters. They are the recognized organization to manage volunteers who come or want to donate ‘stuff’  to help in a disaster,” Shaw said.
Shaw said it’s imperative that donations and volunteers have some manner in which to be managed.
“FEMA, MEMA and EMA recognize and appreciate the work VOAD does. It assists in ensuring that things and/or people are not getting in the way of the necessary work that needs to happen to ensure the safety of all in a disaster. One of the greatest challenges can be people trying to help and not understanding that what they may think is a great idea may not work during the challenging times of a disaster,” said Shaw.
According to Shaw, donations must be managed in a way that ensures that “first the items are, in fact, needed and have been requested.”
“They will be requested once there is a means to handle them, but to assume what is needed can be an added burden to an already challenged situation,” she said.
Shaw said funds raised to aid victims of the 2008 flooding in northern Maine took nearly two years to distribute.
“Bishop Malone of the Portland Diocese of Maine asked for a special collection, which raised nearly $200,000 to assist flood victims, which was administered through our Caribou office over two years. A committee was formed with the United Way of Aroostook, Aroostook County Action Program, Aroostook Emergency Management, officials from affected towns and me. FEMA assisted us in setting up a long-term needs committee to help with unmet and long-term needs once national attention turned elsewhere,” said Shaw.
Shaw said they were incredibly successful in this effort, setting the tone for the rest of the state by how they met needs.
“It took us two years to process all claims. As needs were compiled through 2-1-1, they were then assigned anonymous numbers and checked for other resources such as personal insurance policies or FEMA funds to ensure that special collection money truly went for unmet needs. The UWA hired a temporary person to work through the details of other options and ensured that all requests were legitimate,” she said.
Once all this was done, Shaw said the committee voted on requests and item(s) would be replaced.
“I had no idea at the time of that first call informing me of the flood that the process would be so labor-intensive initially, involve so many different agencies and organizations, and take so many months to recover. People’s lives were changed during that event. People were displaced, instantly homeless. Communities were devastated, churches were shut down and nearly ruined and the social fabric of many was torn and tossed in the river that flooded them out,” said Shaw.
She said she learned a great deal from the experience.
“I learned that I must be better prepared next time — to have enough food and water in our warehouse for our next distribution is not enough. We must always be ready to do what we can if and when another disaster hits our county,” said Shaw.
As spring thaw reveals her clothesline and green grass begins to show, Shaw said she “gets that concern deep in my stomach that this all could happen again, so plans have begun.”
“We have plenty of water in our two warehouses in Monticello and Caribou. I have begun discussions with Darren Woods, EMA director in Caribou, to begin to stage water throughout The County in case of any flooding,” Shaw said.
Shaw said currently the following communities are picking up water for their towns: Ashland, Masardis, St. Agatha, Van Buren, Fort Kent, Fort Fairfield, Madawaska, Island Falls, Limestone and the North Lakes area.
Meetings have begun, with organizations preparing for the worst while officials hope for the best.
“I have been in constant contact with Darren at EMA to ensure we are all on the same page and aware of what each of us has to offer,” said Shaw.
Shaw said a lot of work is happening to ensure that if and when a disaster occurs, “we are ready to the best of our abilities.”