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Blizzard of ’78 was 30 years ago today

LYNN – Not unlike a surprise attack, New Englanders were caught unprepared for the meteorological monster, better known as the Blizzard of ’78, which first engulfed them on Feb. 6.Despite the 30 years that have elapsed since the storm abated, most of those who lived through it cling to fading memories of devastation, evacuation, heroism, neighborliness, and awe at the power of nature.At its peak, snowfall rates of four inches per hour were recorded and drifts reached 15 feet in height. A furious, wind-whipped ocean churned waves 15.2 feet above mean low water, causing widespread coastal flooding on a scale that today remains a benchmark when storms threaten the region.Before the storm was over, more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed, thousands of vehicles were buried beneath snow-clogged highways, and countless motorists were stranded. Power outages, fires, floods, medical emergencies and the loss of phone service complicated rescue and relief efforts. Gov. Michael Dukakis declared an unquestioned state of emergency and banned all automotive traffic. The National Guard was dispatched to the hardest-hit communities to assist with evacuation and to assist other first-responders. Route 128 and stretches of primary commuter routes remained closed for a week, effectively shutting down transportation and with it nearly all commerce. People lit candles and oil lamps and, where possible, stayed at home.In the aftermath, scenes along the coast were grim, especially in those communities where massive tides muscled across the terrain, pulverizing homes and, in a few tragic cases, taking the lives of mariners.Most of the damage was inflicted on seven communities, Lynn, Revere and Gloucester on the North Shore, Plymouth, Marshfield, Scituate and Hull on the South Shore.Those who endured the storm, and others who simply heard tales related to it, can find plenty of reminders among the more than 200 photographs in a new book, “Greater Boston’s Blizzard of 1978′, by Alan R. Earls, 52, of Franklin, released as part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America Series. The book includes an introduction by Dukakis, who praised the efforts of Secretary of Public Safety Charles Barry for his strategic planning.”Too bad nobody in the executive branch of the federal government paid attention to that lesson in the fall of 2005. Things might have been a lot better in the city of New Orleans,” said the former governor, referring to the tidal surge that devastated Louisiana’s most famous city.On a lighter note, Dukakis recalled losing the Democratic primary a few months after the storm, a loss attributed to his actions during the emergency. He quoted former state Senate President William Bulger who surmised voters were still mad at the governor for forcing husbands and wives to spend an entire week together at home.According to Earls, a Boston University graduate and member of the Franklin Historical Commission, “The book is something people could use to connect with an important civic episode in our regions’ life – one that profoundly affected all of us, giving us a shared sense of vulnerability, as well as a sense of mutual purpose and mutual obligation.”The photographs were culled from government archives and private collections.During the blizzard, Earls was employed in Cambridge and lived in a western suburb. He drove home in a borrowed Chevrolet Vega, which he was forced to abandon in deep snow at a shopping plaza near his home. The car lay entombed for several days.

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