ALLAGASH, Maine — After several days fraught with uncertainty about whether the town would flood, Allagash residents can rest easy now that an ice jam has dislodged and the St. John and Allagash rivers are both running freely.
The St. John River had reached minor flood level on Tuesday evening at 25 feet, prompting the National Weather Association to issue a flood advisory for Allagash and surrounding areas. The situation became more concerning early Wednesday afternoon as a section of ice from the adjacent Allagash River gave way and stopped up against a St. John River ice jam.
Relief was finally found last night at around 11 p.m., said Allagash Assistant Fire Chief Louis Pelletier III. The St. John dropped to 12 feet overnight, according to the United States Geological Survey.
“Both rivers started moving and the entire jam has now gone,” Pelletier said.
Some ice and water made its way onto the roadway of Route 161 near the town line, but Pelletier cleared that with his tractor at around 1 a.m. Friday, making the road passable.
Pelletier said that other than a few small trees that fell, there has been no damage he is aware of because of the rivers breaking free.
Keeping watch over the northern rivers is a seasonal event for Allagash residents who work together to look out for one another each spring until the rivers run.
On Thursday, Darlene Kelly Dumond, operator of Two Rivers Lunch, kept the Allagash restaurant doors open for concerned locals to enter and relax with free doughnuts and coffee.
“When the ice runs, anybody that’s doing ice watch will start blaring their horns to let people know that the river is running to get them awake and alert,” resident Cheril Simpson Turner said. “It is the equivalent of yelling fire.”
On Tuesday evening when the St. John reached its peak this season, Simpson Turner’s daughter and two grandchildren, who live in the flood zone, were threatened by river water that ran up to the front door of their home. Some local men cleared ice from the roadway that night as well, and checked on the safety of Simpson Turner’s family.
The river ice has not breached the roads in recent years, until this season, but residents will never forget the Allagash flood of 1991 when the St. John River suddenly gave way and more than 100 people had to find cover at the local Baptist church.
“Having experienced 1991, I am always a little stressed this time of year as are many residents. We just try to keep people at a safe distance until the danger is gone. I will sleep good tonight,” Pelletier said.