40 years later, the Blizzard of ’78 remains a fresh memory for those who lived through it

Residents walk down the center of a barely plowed Revere Street in the days after the Blizzard of '78.
Residents walk down the center of a barely plowed Revere Street in the days after the Blizzard of '78. (Item file photo.)

Four decades ago, New England was pummelled with more than 27 inches of snow during a lingering storm that lasted three days.

The Blizzard of  ’78 left thousands of people trapped in their homes for several days while others were displaced. Forty years later, people are still talking about it.

“I have lots of storms in my memory,” said Calantha Sears, a 96-year-old Nahant historian and lifelong resident. “I remember that one very vividly. In a way, it was an interesting thing because it brought all parts of the town together in a very neighborly way.”

More than the snow, flooding ocean waters left most of Nahant cut off from the rest of the world. The Causeway was impassable, the shoreline destroyed, and many homes and cars were flooded.

The Village Store stayed open through most of the storm and its aftermath, but residents got most of what they needed from friendly neighbors looking out for one another, said Nahant Historical Society director Julie Tarmy.

Water and ice covered the Nahant Causeway, isolating the town from the mainland. Residents requiring medical attention could not be brought to the hospital, and were placed under the care of doctors living in Nahant. Firefighters were left on their own in fighting two blazes.

Fox Hill resident Melvin Demit was killed while tending to a furnace in his basement when a wall of water crashed through the structure. The home he rented and the one next door both burned down in fires caused by electrical short circuits.

Tudor Beach was torn up, with large granite blocks of the sea wall tossed onto Willow Road.

More than 125 residents were still in temporary quarters a week after the storm began. The total damage was estimated to be in excess of $27 million. Sewage lines ruptured, and six of town’s seven pump stations flooded.

The Town Wharf, which was more than a century old, was completely destroyed.

Farther south along the coast, Revere was hit the hardest. Thousands of residents from Beachmont, Point of Pines, and other sections of town took shelter at Revere High School, where the Red Cross provided food, blankets, cots, and medical services.

Revere Mayor George Colella said damage ran in excess of $50 million.

Sixteen boys were born at Salem and Lynn hospitals during the blizzard, and somehow, all the anxious mothers made it to local delivery rooms on time for the arrival of their cherubs.

Like many other new parents, Diane Reilly and her husband William were quickly running out of milk, juice, and other staples and needed to get to a store.

She was seven months pregnant, recovering from the Hong Kong Flu, and had a 17-month-old son in tow when she and her husband began the trek from their Eastern Avenue home to the Mayflower Market.

“My husband made a makeshift baby sled by bolting a milk crate to an old wooden sled for the trip,” she said.  “It felt eerie walking up the middle of the street with nov   traffic except for an occasional military vehicle delivering supplies to local grocery stores throughout the city.”

Meanwhile, her twin sister was delivering her first child, three weeks early, at Lynn Hospital on Boston Street.

For Carol and Jack Nolan, the blizzard led to a lasting friendship.

“Shortly after the wild blizzard stopped, and when the city and everyone was paralyzed, there was a knock on our door,” said Carol Nolan.” My husband and I could not imagine who could be out in such weather.  Douglas and Duncan Maitland, twin brothers who lived not far from us, presented us with milk. They said, ‘when we saw you yesterday, you were concerned about your baby. So we brought you milk’.”

The twins had walked to a store near Lynn Common and said they bought a bottle for themselves and one for the Nolans.

“That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” said Carol.

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