April 07, 2020

If every picture tells a story, the front of Monday’s MaineDay section tells the human side of natural disaster.

Rich Aitken trudges across a sleety landscape of shattered trees and drooping power lines to deliver water and medicine to a neighbor. Her face showing both fatigue and determination, Selectwoman Maxine Clement grips the microphone she uses to guide rescue operations. Fire Chief Dan Lawson, operating on six hours sleep in three days, makes door-to-door checks on standed residents while he directs volunteer chain-saw crews in their efforts to clear the roads.

When this is over, in a week or two or more, when the lights flicker on and furnaces roar to life, when schools re-open and business gets back to usual, those images from Monroe — representing the thousands of selfless acts of concern occuring throughout Maine — will be at that remains of the Great Ice Storm of `98.

In years to come, the four days of ice just ended and the long recovery that now follows will be something few will forget and many will have cause to remember with pride. Despite conditions of spooky darkness and numbing cold, Maine’s people, businesses and emergency agencies have worked together to generate warmth through concern and sacrifice.

But it’s far from over and this calamity already has a tragic side. Two are dead from improperly operating generators in their basements, several more are seriously ill from the fumes. Those who are staying in their heatless homes, especially the elderly, may not be making the wise choice. The Red Cross reports that blood supplies, always depleted after the holidays, now are critically low because donors simply have not been able to get out. Downed power lines and weakened tree limbs still lie in wait. Above all, this is the time to stay concerned and stay cautious.

Sadly, a few have not distinguished themselves. Scattered reports are popping up of door-to-door saw crews telling folks, older folks mostly, that they won’t get their electricity back until they pay someone — namely them — to clear up fallen limbs. One hopes there is an especially hot circle of hell reserved for such opportunists.

And, once again a catastrophe reveals the serious disconnect that exists between those in need and the federal government. A full week after the first wave of sleet and the first outages, the awesome resources of federal agencies — including the military — that could bring relief sit idle while the appropriate forms are filled out. It’s a scenario that’s been replayed through far too many hurricanes, floods and tornadoes — in the federal world, a disaster must be quantified in dollars before it can be allieviated. In the end, the lesson of the Great Storm will be one we’ve always known — it’s friends and neighbors pulling together that make the difference.

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