Rising waters, ice jams create dangerous conditions around Maine, claim one life

Posted April 16, 2014, at 12:59 p.m.
Last modified April 16, 2014, at 8:13 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Runoff from melting snow, rain and ice jams created dangerous conditions around the state Wednesday as most of Maine remained under flood watches and warnings.

A Caswell man died late Tuesday after being swept away in floodwaters when he stepped into an open culvert after moving his truck across a flooded road in the Aroostook County town.

Wardens recovered the body of 74-year-old Paul Oliver early Wednesday morning about 20 yards downstream from where he apparently fell into an open, water-covered culvert on flooded Oliver Road.

Oliver had attempted to walk back across the flooded dirt roadway to his residence, according to Warden Cpl. John MacDonald. He was reported missing just after 9:30 p.m.

MacDonald said the road was completely covered with fast-flowing water. Oliver’s body was found at 5:35 a.m., MacDonald said.

Wardens were assisted at the scene by members of the Limestone Fire Department.

Elsewhere, numerous road closures — including the Route 1A bridge over the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield because of a large ice jam — forced the cancellation of classes for the day in SAD 20.

“There is a lot of spring runoff from the fields,” Mike Bosse, Fort Fairfield town manager, said Wednesday morning. “We’ve had a really large snowpack this year, and it seemed like in the past five or six days, it decided it wanted to melt all at once.”

By midday Wednesday, the National Weather Service was reporting the ice jam in Fort Fairfield had released and reformed farther downstream with water levels in the Aroostook River at Fort Fairfield dropping.

An ice jam upstream from Fort Fairfield was creating the potential for some flooding around Masardis, according to the report from the weather service.

An ice jam remained on the St. John River at the St. Francis-Allagash town line, and another jam had been reported upstream from Van Buren near Grand Isle.

To the south, the Androscoggin, Kennebec and Penobscot rivers continued to rise Wednesday and were expected to crest near or above flood stage later in the day, according to Lynette Miller, spokesperson for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

The Kennebec was expected to remain above flood stage until Friday, she said, adding that the towns of Augusta, Gardiner and Hallowell have blocked off streets near the river.

“Small rivers and streams around the state will likely crest today,” Miller said. “There are a number of places that have roads closed.”

Dexter also closed roads because of rising waters. A small bridge reportedly washed out and several downtown businesses were evacuated, resident Joel Costonis said Wednesday.

According to Costonis, flooding on the Sebasticook River led to the temporary evacuation of a mobile home park on Water Street.

The force of the running water ripped out one end of a large culvert on Lincoln Street, leading to the closure of the section of that street running from Spring Street to Water Street.

Costonis said the Sebasticook was still running high and fast as of Wednesday evening.

The East Branch of the Penobscot River flooded onto several hundred feet of Grindstone Road in Grindstone about 10 miles from East Millinocket, but the waters abated by Wednesday afternoon, East Millinocket Fire Chief Les Brown said.

Mike Coombs, Mattawamkeag interim fire chief, said that the Mattawamkeag River threatened to overrun River Road, but the water never got beyond the road’s edge.

Farther south, Lincoln firefighters expected to use about a third of the 3,000 sandbags received from the Maine Emergency Management Agency bolstering the ground around Cold Stream Dam at Upper Cold Stream Pond, Lincoln Public Safety Director Dan Summers said.

Firefighters feared that the water could crest enough to wash out the soft ground around the dam and then blow out the dam, Summers said.

Heavy rains that turned to snow overnight across Maine helped swell rivers and increase runoff, but Miller said a cooling trend this week will slow things down.

“The cooler weather is going to help us in terms of some of the runoff, and there are no big precipitation events on the way,” she said. “If the ice continues to pass out harmlessly, this has done us some real favors, [but] until all of the rivers and smaller streams are clear, we can’t breathe easy.”

“We would like to see the temperatures remain cool and slow down the water running off the hills and let the lakes catch up in terms of draining,” Summers said.

Miller recommends residents check with the National Weather Service or local emergency management offices for up-to-date information on flood and river conditions.

Bangor Daily News writers Dawn Gagnon and Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to his report.


A previous version of this story erroneously referred to the Route 1 bridge over the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield. The road is Route 1A.