On March 31, 1987, I was a bartender at Bravo's Mexican Restaurant in downtown Gardiner. I was closing the restaurant for the night, when the owner called me and told me to put out 7 or 8 sandbags in front of the back door (the River side) he had brought in earlier and left in the office as he had heard that it was possible the Kennebec might flood and we could get hit with some minor damage. We never would have believed what we were to see the next morning.

Then Governor McKernan surveys the scene in downtown Augusta. Screenshot from Maine Films via YouTube

Jim Whitten, who was the kitchen manager of Bravo's at the time, remembers getting a call from Jim Remley, owner of Bravo's at around 3 AM on the morning of April 1, 1987, asking him if he could come to the restaurant to help him prepare for the flood. "We put tables on top of each other and chairs on top of the tables, but it didn't really matter, because the entire downstairs restaurant and lounge was underwater later." Bravo's had hoped to only be closed a few days, but it was nearly a month before they would reopen their doors for business.

Shop n Save, now Hannaford, in Gardiner. April 2, 1987. Screenshot from Maine Films via YouTube

Maine had a normal snow pack, and normal flood potential in late March of 1987. However, a warm rainstorm brought 4 to 6 inches of rain to the mountains of Maine and New Hampshire, which combined with 6 or more inches of melted snow. The water ran over frozen ground, and streams and rivers began to rise. Flooding became disastrous on April 1, 1987 on Maine’s major rivers.

Downtown Hallowell April 1987 Photo courtesy of MEMA Maine Gov

According to the MEMA website, "In theory, a flood of this magnitude should occur only once in a hundred years or more. In reality, it can happen at any time when the wrong weather factors come together." And they certainly came together on that fateful April Fools Day, 30 years ago in 1987.

The end result?

  • 2100 homes flooded; 215 destroyed, 240 with major damage
  • 400 small businesses impacted
  • Countless roads and bridges destroyed or damaged
  • Fort Halifax historic site in Winslow washed away
  • At the corner of Bond and Water Streets Downtown Augusta April 1987 Photo courtesy of MEMA Maine.gov
    Corner of Water St and Winthrop Street, downtown Hallowell April 2, 1987. Screenshot from Maine Films via YouTube

    Though there is no way to prevent a flood like the one in 1987 happening again, there are ways to reduce the effects.

    Maine residents and business owners can:

      • Learn about their flood risk
      • Make sure they have adequate flood insurance (homeowners and business insurance does not cover flood damage)
      • Make sure they have emergency plans for their families and businesses
      • “Stay tuned” to weather forecasts and warnings at all times



    For those who weren't around in 1987, check out the photo album below of Augusta, Hallowell, and Gardiner the days after the great flood of April 1, 1987.



    And some video from the flood of 1987.



    It is hard to believe that 30 years have gone by. The towns and cities here in Central Maine have all rebuilt, but those who worked on or lived on the river will never forget April 1, 1987 and the flood of the century.