February 19, 2020
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State on alert with flooding expected

State emergency officials are on alert for heavy flooding from Fort Kent to Gray because of ice jams, snow melt and rains expected overnight Monday.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings across Northern and Down East Maine from now to Tuesday afternoon. It forecasts as much as 1½ inches of rain in Down East and coastal areas and an inch of rain across northern Maine.

By themselves, the rains wouldn’t mean much, but they will combine with melting snow, heavy river ice — particularly on the Aroostook and St. John rivers — gusting winds and rising temperatures, said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

“We are seeing all the risk factors for spring flooding converge here,” Miller said Monday.

The rains are expected to start by 6 p.m. They will blanket the state by 9 p.m. and be in full force early Tuesday, said Joe Hewitt, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Caribou. High winds gusting to 55 mph will start at 6 p.m., possibly exacerbating flooding by downing trees, and last until about 6 a.m. Tuesday.

A MEMA conference call Monday afternoon among officials from the weather service offices in Caribou and Gray, the state’s 16 county emergency management agencies, state emergency management teams and Gov. John Baldacci produced a list of high-risk areas, Miller said. They are:

• The towns of Fort Fairfield and Masardis on the Aroostook River and Fort Kent and St. Francis on St. John River. The rivers have heavy ice jams that are already causing some localized flooding.

“Those areas are the two of prime concern right now,” Hewitt said. “The additional rain and snow melt could allow those ice jams in place to move, shift down river and lock back up again.”

The Maine Department of Transportation will send an inspector to review Fort Kent’s bridges on the St. John to ensure that they can handle the ice packed against them, Miller said.

• The Mattawamkeag River in Mattawamkeag, which was already past flood stages as of 1 p.m.

• The Penobscot River at Grindstone and Route 11.

• The Piscataquis River at Dover-Foxcroft and the Guilford area, especially at the river’s Pleasant River junction.

ä The Down East and coastal regions, including Bar Harbor and Machias and coastal Washington and Hancock counties, which will be buffeted by high winds.

MEMA officials opted to delay activating their emergency operations center in Augusta until the storm develops further, Miller said.

“We really are on alert at the present time. It’s hard to tell, other than in Aroostook [County], where our resources might be needed,” she said.

“Safety is the issue we stress,” Miller added. “Paramount is staying out of areas where there is flooding. The power of water is something that should not be underestimated.”

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