David Ullman, Red Cross Writer
On the western edge of Maine where the Swift River joins the Androscoggin River the town of Rumford is home to almost 6,000 Mainers. The week before the Christmas holiday, a storm of high winds and heavy rainfall blanketed Maine. The combined effects of snowmelt, wind and rain resulted in power outages and near record flooding of several rivers, including the Androscoggin and Swift.
Jacob Knight, his wife Martika and their six children live along the Swift River. First, they lost power. Then in the early hours of Wednesday, the family was forced to evacuate due to the rising river.
“I didn’t know what was going on until I stepped out my front door and there was water rushing like we were right on a river,” said Knight. “We grabbed the kids and tossed them in my truck and got up to high ground.”
With his family out of immediate danger, Knight returned to his house to gather necessities.
“I wanted to get a set of dry clothes for everybody,” Knight continued. “There was probably three feet of water on the roadway. The water on my driveway was about four to five feet deep. I waded through most of it then I started swimming toward the house.”
The Swift River crested at a record high of 14.2 feet.
As the power outages spread, the Rumford school district opened the high school gymnasium and cafeteria to be used as a shelter. Local hardware store manager Kevin Jamison led the town’s response until the American Red Cross arrived and worked with the town to assume management of the shelter and relief efforts.
“The first couple nights were rough,” Jamison said. “We were trying to figure out what was going on. When the Red Cross got here it got more organized.”
Knight shared a similar observation.
“The Red Cross showed up and started figuring things out, collaborating with the local church. Trying to figure out placement for some people and trying to get some people’s belongings moved.”
Knight continued, “They seemed to do pretty well, as far as making sure everyone was comfortable and got the amenities they needed.”
The shelter hosted 42 occupants on the first night with that number growing to 70 during the day, according to Red Cross Shelter Manager Bob Jolley.
“A lot of people came in to get food, eat, warm up a little bit and then headed back out,” said Jamison.
Each day, additional short-term housing options were identified for those staying with us. Within a week, the Rumford shelter was able to resume operations as a high school gymnasium as the Red Cross and the Rumford community relocated all the shelter residents, including the Knight family, into vacant apartments and hotels, allowing them to take the first steps towards rebuilding their lives.
The Red Cross stands on the frontlines of the climate crisis with families and communities — responding to rapidly intensifying storms, extreme heat, widespread wildfires and record floods, much like we just experienced in Maine. The impacts of the climate crisis are disrupting lives and causing devastating harm to people in our region and across the country. In the last 10 years, the number of billion-dollar disasters has increased by 80% in the U.S. — on top of smaller everyday crises like home fires, which are no less traumatic to the families coping with them. As extreme weather shows no signs of slowing down, more people will need help from the Red Cross. We are adapting our mission and growing our capacity. We stand ready to answer the call.
All Red Cross assistance is provided free of charge and made possible by the generosity of the public. To donate to Red Cross Disaster Relief and help people affected by disasters big and small, visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. To become a Red Cross volunteer visit redcross.org/volunteer.