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Today I’m going to talk about the flooding in Aroostook County.

But as I do, I’m often reminded by the people of Aroostook County how self-sufficient and resilient they are.

And as a matter of fact, when I visited there earlier this year, they had just undergone a record snowfall. And they had said to me in a tired, exhausted expression, they’ve got all the snow in the State of Maine and they’re not sharing it with anybody.

When you want to know about how to conduct yourself, or to be able to look and see how families are being raised and neighbors treat each other, Aroostook County has always been the model for best practices.

When you talk about the St. John Valley and you talk about Northern Maine and Aroostook County, we know that things that flow from there always shine brightly throughout the rest of the State.

So, between the combination of snow and heavy downfalls of rain this week, The County has got a situation which is dangerous at the St. John, Fish and Allagash Rivers.

Days after the rain stopped, the waters continued to rise, and snow melted and the streams delivered millions of gallons of water to already swollen rivers.

The people of Aroostook County have been called upon to shoulder a heavy load this year.

As I mentioned, The County was rocked with a snow storm that dropped 17 inches of snow on Fort Kent in a three-day period. More than 40 roads were closed or restricted to a single travel lane.

On March 21 alone, high winds, blowing snow and dangerous travels conditions caused havoc. Police responded to more than 60 accidents in a single day.

The storm took a serious toll on the economy. The shopping mall in Presque Isle reported a $1 million loss in business due to the storm. And trucking companies lost two days of work, and a farm in Garfield lost 20 percent of its beef herd.

In total, more than 185 inches of snow fell this year. That’s about 15 and a half feet.

It’s been a long, hard winter.

And now the spring rains are coming.

At this point, we’re still evaluating how much damage has been inflicted by last week’s rain.

But on Tuesday night, I declared a state of emergency for Aroostook County, and the Maine Emergency Management Agency has been coordinating the response with local officials.

In preparation for the flooding, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife moved watercraft and personnel to Aroostook from other parts of the state to ensure there were enough people on the ground capable of doing water rescues and protecting public safety.

MEMA has coordinated with the Red Cross to make sure shelters were available for people who needed to evacuate. Most people, however, sought help from friends and family.

It’s always difficult to make a decision to order an evacuation, but the rapidly changing circumstances on the ground demand police, fire and emergency crews have the authority to protect lives.

And I have to say, I even heard stories when I visited of the Boy Scouts working with the Fire Department, working with the Police Department, working with the County EMA people. I was so proud they got their arms around it as a community and they worked together so well.

But our utmost responsibility in state government is to protect the public health, safety and welfare.

In that, we all have a job to do. A lot of bad situations can be avoided by making good decisions. I want everyone to be careful and be safe.

Maine is lucky to have on the ground an experienced emergency response team and I can’t thank Vern Ouellette and his deputy director Darren Woods and their team of volunteers and supporters who have done a tremendous job of taking care of their communities.

We would have never been able to get people to safety had Vern and his team not been there, so our hat goes off to them.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has been an incredible resource. More than 30 wardens responded creatively and bravely to a crisis. They put to use frond-end loaders, farm tractors and multiple boats and aircraft to make sure people were safely evacuated.

And speaking of helicopters and safety, we had the rangers that were there, the Department of Conservation. They just did a wonderful job as we were able to scout out Fort Kent and the area around the St. John Valley to see where we needed to plug holes and get resources to those affected areas.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency, under the capable leadership of Rob McAleer, every department in State government working in unison together with Maine Emergency Management Agency, are doing what is necessary – and will keep doing what is necessary - to not only respond to the crisis, but help the community and the region to be able to recover from the crisis.

Mainer’s are tough, and we won’t usually let a little bad weather stand in our way – as my mother used to say, “We’re not going to melt.” But at the same time, between the rain and the snow this winter in particular, it’s been a hard one. But it’s one in which we’re going to come out of it better than when we went into it and the entire state stands ready to help Northern Maine rebuild.

Thank you, be safe and have a good weekend.

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