June 25, 2018
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Tornado damage assessed at $1.2M so far as County officials seek federal aid

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

CARIBOU, Maine — Aroostook County emergency management officials have spent the past few days touring the region and assessing the level of damage caused by three tornadoes that hit the area last week.

Vern Ouellette, director of the Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency, said Monday that officials will apply for federal disaster assistance if the level of damage rises to the monetary level needed to qualify.

“Right now, we are working to evaluate all of the damage,” Ouellette explained. “We are at $1.2 million in damages right now, and we need $1.65 million to qualify for aid.”

The County experienced three tornadoes over a two-day period last week during which severe thunderstorms also downed trees and caused power outages through parts of northern and eastern Maine.

No injuries or fatalities were reported in connection with the tornadoes last week, two of which struck Wednesday and one Thursday.

The first tornado struck at 6:22 p.m. last Wednesday about a mile east-southeast of Little Madawaska Lake and bounced along the ground a total of about 10 miles before ending about 4 miles northwest of the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, according to the National Weather Service office in Caribou.

Another tornado touched down at about 7:15 p.m. last Wednesday about 7 miles northeast of Ashland. Its path was about 50 yards wide and a quarter-mile long with damage limited to trees.

The tornado that touched down last Thursday struck 2 miles northeast of Fort Fairfield. It reportedly struck at about 4:10 p.m. with winds between 65 and 85 mph and also gouged a path about 50 yards wide over a quarter mile.

A number of communities saw downed trees and power lines, damage to roofs and landscaping and washed out roads. Ouellette said the city of Caribou suffered the most damage.

“They were really hard hit,” he said. “We calculated $400,000 in damages in that community alone. A number of roads were washed out and trees were pulled down.”

In one instance, an older barn was blown out into the roadway, and a rock wall that surrounded a yard collapsed in the Washington Street area.

Fort Fairfield also saw significant damage, especially to ATV trails, Ouellette said Monday.

“They have about $130,000 in damage,” he added.

A number of potato growers, who had recently planted fields, saw them washed out by heavy rain.

Ouellette said County officials are still fielding reports from local communities, and they have reached out to officials in other counties in Maine to see if they had any damage that could be added on to any request for federal assistance. Piscataquis County also saw damage from severe storms, and a house on Great Wass Island in Washington County caught fire after it was struck by lightning.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was in The County on Friday to speak at the Presque Isle High School graduation and in Van Buren Saturday for a groundbreaking event for the new land port of entry. While in the area, she toured several of the hard hit areas.

“I was home in The County this weekend and saw the destruction from the recent storms,” Collins said in a written statement. “I spoke with local emergency management officials and learned that we face significant damages from the torrential rains, wind, and tornadoes and the damage is still being assessed. It was particularly worrisome to see the extensive damage to the recently planted potato fields, with some of the crop washed away and deep gullies from the more than 5 inches of rain we had over just two days.

“As the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, I will work closely with federal, state and local officials to assist Aroostook County get the help needed to rebuild and recover should the governor request assistance,” she continued.

Ouellette said he will travel to Augusta Tuesday to see if he can convince Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to send a team to The County to help local officials better calculate damage.

“Those teams are typically sent after a disaster and they find losses that we can’t, so I am hoping to get them to come up to look at the damage we’ve sustained,” Ouellette said Monday.

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