Hurricane Dorian is expected to remain off the coast of Maine on Saturday, but will produce rain, waves and dangerous rip currents as it passes the state. COURTESY PHOTO/NOAA

BIDDEFORD — Forecasters are predicting that Hurricane Dorian will stay offshore and not strike Maine this weekend, but in case it does, Maine’s Emergency Management Agency is remaining vigilant and keeping a careful eye on the monster storm that caused widespread devastation in the Bahamas and massive flooding in the Carolinas earlier this week.

The Maine Emergency Operations Center in Augusta is staffed year-round and is on-call 24-7 for emergency situations and situational awareness. MEMA also works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help them prepare for and manage disasters in the state throughout the year.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for parts of the state Saturday from Schoodic Point east of Bar Harbour to Eastport, but the National Weather Service in Gray says Dorian’s approach will produce rain, high seas, beach erosion and dangerous rip currents along the York County coastline with a High Surf Advisory in effect from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Maine does have plans in place in the event that a hurricane were to make landfall here, said Susan Faloon, public information officer for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

“A number of hurricanes have hit the state through the years, leaving widespread damage,” Faloon said. “Hurricane Edna in 1954 did approximately $7 million in damage. Hurricane Carol, that same year, did roughly $5 million and Hurricane Bob in 1991 did over $5.5 million. In 1954, Carol and Edna occurred within a two-week period, a highly unusual pairing that caused deaths and extensive damage. Hurricane Donna in 1960 also caused damage in Maine. The experiences of Hurricane Gloria in September 1985 and Hurricane Bob in August 1991 raised awareness of the state’s vulnerability; but event memories and lessons learned often fade within a period of only two or three years.”

She said that since those hurricanes, coastal populations have significantly increased and valuations of many coastal communities have increased more than a hundred fold.

“Consequentially, it is expected that damage today from the likes of an Edna would be many times greater. Awareness did become heightened in September 2011, as Hurricane Irene tracked into New England resulting in record breaking damages and multi-state declarations,” Faloon said. “When it reached Maine as a tropical storm, Irene still resulted in declaration DR-4032 because of the extensive flooding to roads from the heavy rains and the debris cleanup and power outages from the high winds. The four counties of Franklin, Lincoln, Oxford, and York were part of the declaration. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the Northeast coast but spared Maine. Had Irene or Sandy affected more of the coastal counties, fishing, commercial and pleasure boating losses would have been significant if boats, gear, piers, and wharfs had been severely damaged.”

Faloon says there are 16 county emergency management agencies to lead local disaster responses with the Maine Emergency Operations Center in Augusta coordinating statewide efforts.

She said that when the EOC is activated, it includes members of the state’s Emergency Response Team as well.

“The State Emergency Response Team is made up of representatives from state agencies and the American Red Cross,” Faloon said. “ERT members relay information to their personnel in the field, receive information from field units, and can commit their agencies’ resources to respond to a county request. Agency representatives are also asked to participate in training and exercises, and assist with state emergency operations planning.”

A designated regional evacuation shelter in the event of a hurricane can be found on Franklin Street in Saco. There are five regional shelters total in York County. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

The ERT was created by Executive Order and 16 agencies are named in the order, including Maine Emergency Management Agency (chair); Department of Administrative and Financial Services; Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management; Department of Education; Department of Environmental Protection; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; Department of Labor; Department of Marine Resources; Department of Public Safety; Department of Transportation; Maine Turnpike Authority; Public Utilities Commission; American Red Cross; and the Governor’s Office.

A 2016 study by the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission and the York County Emergency Management Agency counted five designated regional shelters in York County which are overseen by the American Red Cross. Three of them are in the coastal communities of South Berwick, Wells and Saco while the other two are located in the inland communities of Sanford and Buxton.

In 2007, a Maine Hurricane Evacuation report used transportation-based methodology to calculate evaluation clearance times for each coastal county in Maine based on various scenarios, such as low tourist numbers versus high tourist numbers, strength of the storm, the time it takes for people to respond to a storm correlated with the storm’s severity and whether people were evacuating within a county or traveling out of the county. For York County, the individual household commute times to the New Hampshire line in worst-case scenarios during peak traffic ranged from a half hour for a Category 1 storm to 4 ½ hours for a Category 5 storm.

And although coastal areas tend to be the hardest hit by hurricanes in Maine, but no communities are immune here, Faloon said.

“No one is completely risk-free in Maine. It really depends on the track of the storm as well,” she said.  “Storms may kill on the coast, but inland flooding and debris are killers inland. You may recall back-to-back storms in March 2018 that hit York County, which had already been compromised from storms in October 2017 and January 2018. Those March storms resulted in a Federal Disaster declaration for York County alone. The state threshold for a declaration is $1.9 million. York County alone exceeded that threshold.”

Faloon recommends that Maine residents visit Maine.gov/MEMA for up-to-date preparedness information.

“We have information on preparedness, weather and emergency information when an event is taking place. We also have shelter information there,” she said. “Facebook and Twitter are good places during an event, as we post as things unfold. Mainers can also sign up for statewide alerts at Maine.gov and choose the agencies they wish to receive alerts from, including MEMA. FEMA has a free app that people can download on their smart phone and subscribe to alerts and warnings for up to five locations (counties, other states, etc.).”   

To assist Hurricane Dorian victims Catholic Bishop Robert P. Deeley has authorized a special collection at all of Maine’s Catholic churches next weekend to provide aid and support to victims of Hurricane Dorian as well as other natural disasters that could occur this year.

“Hurricane Dorian intensified before making landfall in the Bahamas where it battered the island for nearly 40 hours, leaving catastrophic damage in its path with at least 20 deaths recorded and thousands of homes and buildings destroyed,” Deeley said. “The devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian is a harsh reminder that hurricane season has begun. This special collection will allow the Diocese of Portland to respond to the immediate, emergency needs and long-term recovery of many who are suffering.”

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]

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