Maine’s emergency responders are updating their plans and checking equipment as Hurricane Earl threatens to bring flooding and wind damage to the state.
The forecast for the storm’s track has it passing southeast of Maine from Friday night into Saturday, but hurricanes are unpredictable because they often change direction.
State and county emergency planners and local rescue workers “are preparing for this as if we’re sure it’s going to be a major impact on the state, because it’s easy to step back from that if it should be necessary,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
“It’s a case of trying to keep as well-informed as possible, but also lining up potential sheltering plans and potential evacuation plans,” she said.
The National Hurricane Center describes Earl as a major hurricane with wind speeds exceeding 110 mph. It has battered Caribbean islands and is forecast to skirt North Carolina on Friday morning and head up the East Coast.
Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and southern Mississippi – and demonstrated the dangers of inadequate preparation.
“Katrina taught us a lot of good lessons – difficult lessons, but some things that we’re still putting into place today,” said Michael Mason, regional emergency services director for the American Red Cross of Southern Maine.
The agency is preparing shelter and food that may be needed if there are disaster victims. It also is trying to educate the public to be prepared, not only when a hurricane is bearing down, but also for more common Maine disasters, such as severe winter storms and flooding.
“We don’t get a lot of those big disasters that kind of make the headlines in other states,” Mason said. One result is that the state and its residents aren’t as experienced in dealing with them.
“As idyllic as it is to live in Maine, it also can lead to level of complacency that can make the effect of a disaster even more dangerous,” he said. “The folks that don’t prepare themselves for these things not only put themselves at risk, they put others at risk.”
Mason said the Red Cross can’t say ahead of time what shelters a given neighborhood would rely on, because it depends on the specifics of the emergency and the extent of any evacuations that might be required.
Residents can call 211, the state’s information line, to learn what shelters have been opened near them.
Planners say people should prepare disaster kits that have the supplies they will need if they have to leave home or get cut off from help for days.
Dave Thompson, director of the American Red Cross of Southern Maine, said the agency is communicating with its partners to make sure it has access to the emergency supplies it might need.
“You don’t call Hannaford or Oakhurst Dairy the day before a hurricane happens and say, ‘We need X, Y and Z,’ because they’re not ready for that,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the Red Cross is fundraising in anticipation of the hurricane because after a disaster hits, people are too busy to raise the money that’s needed to support disaster victims.
“The Red Cross nationally is starting to build up that disaster relief fund so that money can move into those communities quickly as soon as it is needed,” Thompson said.
The last significant hurricane to hit the Maine coast was Hurricane Bob, in 1991. Before that, Hurricane Gloria hit in 1985.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]