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Mudslide in St. Francis, then logger and grandson clear road for stranded motorists

ST. FRANCIS, Maine — A 69-year-old Allagash logger and his grandson came to the rescue in a payloader Thursday, July 7 afternoon when a mudslide stopped traffic on  Maine Route 161 in St. Francis.

ST. FRANCIS, Maine -- 07/07/16 -- Vernon Pelletier, 69, of Allagash uses payloader to clear a section of Route 161 in St. Francis on Thursday. He and his grandson came to help after learning a mudslide caused by heavy rain had stranded motorists. Craig Ouellette

ST. FRANCIS, Maine — 07/07/16 — Vernon Pelletier, 69, of Allagash uses payloader to clear a section of Route 161 in St. Francis on Thursday. He and his grandson came to help after learning a mudslide caused by heavy rain had stranded motorists. Craig Ouellette

Vernon Pelletier said Friday that he was enjoying a meal of trout and potatoes with his family when another logger attempting to drive home from work knocked on his door Thursday and asked for help to clear mud and debris blocking the road about a mile east of the Allagash town line.

“I knew exactly what it was because the same thing happened there I’d say probably eight or 10 years ago,” said Pelletier, who lives in Allagash not far from the town line. “It’s a steep bank. Years ago they made the road right in the bank, and over the years it keeps sliding down.”

Pelletier and his grandson Greyden Pelletier, 17, borrowed a payloader from the family business, Syl-Ver Logging, which they named after Vernon Pelletier and his wife, Sylvia. Pelletier founded the logging business years ago but has since retired.

ST. FRANCIS, Maine -- 07/07/16 -- Vernon Pelletier, 69, of Allagash uses payloader to clear a section of Route 161 in St. Francis on Thursday. He and his grandson came to help after learning a mudslide caused by heavy rain had stranded motorists. Craig Ouellette

ST. FRANCIS, Maine — 07/07/16 — Vernon Pelletier, 69, of Allagash uses payloader to clear a section of Route 161 in St. Francis on Thursday. He and his grandson came to help after learning a mudslide caused by heavy rain had stranded motorists. Craig Ouellette

“Now my boys are running the outfit,” he said.

Greyden Pelletier also works at Syl-Ver Logging.

“He’s a seventh-generation logger from the Allagash,” his grandfather said.

After they drove the payloader over to the site and observed the condition of the road, Pelletier said he felt relieved the mudslide hadn’t injured anybody. Photos showed how chunks of the embankment on the south side of Route 161 appeared to have given way because of heavy rains, causing mud to flood across the roadway.

If a car had been driving by at the time, the moving mud would have pushed it right over the steep embankment on the other side, the elder Pelletier said.

“That drops a couple hundred feet there over the side,” he said.

It took the Pelletiers about three hours to clear the roadway with their payloader, which Vernon Pelletier said was the right equipment for the job.

 

“That’s the only thing you can use without spoiling the tar,” he said. “With the payloader you can scoop it up, haul it and dump it.”

The Pelletiers did just that, dumping the mud and debris over the side of the embankment, while area resident Craig Ouellette directed traffic.

Ouellette posted photos of the mudslide on his Facebook page and praised Pelletier for his efforts.

“We are truly blessed to have people like you in the neighborhood,” Ouellette wrote in a Facebook post.

Meteorologist Timothy Duda with the National Weather Service office in Caribou said Friday that Aroostook County has seen more rainfall this summer than is typically the case. However, Thursday’s rainfall in the St. John Valley amounted to less than an inch in the 24 hour period between midnight Wednesday and midnight Thursday.

Duda said he was unaware of any similar weather related incidents occurring elsewhere in northern Maine over that time span.

Vernon Pelletier said Friday he didn’t give a second thought to abandoning his trout dinner to help clean up the mudslide mess.

“I knew those people all wanted to get home. Those workers were on their way home, and there were people parked behind them who couldn’t get up the road,” he said. “Up here we all work together. … You help one guy out, maybe a week or two later, he’s gonna help you out. We all have to work together up here to survive. It’s always been that way up here.”

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