The idea of fining someone up to $500 — or sentencing someone to up to a year in jail — for daring to simply drive on one of Massachusetts’ roadways Friday night and late Saturday afternoon certainly raised a few eyebrows, even in the face of the Blizzard of 2013.
Similarly, the notion of Gloucester police tagging any vehicles to be towed for parking on a city street has always been seen as a foreign concept by many folks as well.
But no one should argue that those tactics — heavy-handed or not — were among the key factors that allowed many Gloucester and Cape Ann residents to be able to get out and about by Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after the final hit by an historic winter storm that buried us in between 20 and 24 inches of snow while socking a number of residents and business owners with wind and storm surge damage.
So credit goes out to Gov. Deval Patrick, Mayor Carolyn Kirk, city Police Chief Leonard Campanello, Rockport’s selectmen and Department of Public Works crews across Cape Ann and beyond for helping us all of us deal with this weather blockbuster as well as we did. The fact that there were no reports of any storm-related Cape Ann deaths or injuries speaks to the extraordinary level of cooperation that shone through throughout the weekend among officials, emergency crews. And let’s not forget the cooperation among residents who, true to form in our communities, reached out to help and keep tabs on their neighbors through a weekend that could have gone much, much worse.
It was the governor’s travel ban that carried the potential $500 penalty and/or up to a year in jail. And, yes, on the surface, that seemed to go a tad overboard. But it also got every Massachusetts driver’s attention. And the nearly complete absence of cars, trucks and/or buses on the streets and highways seemed to give public works crews an extraordinary leg up on clearing the main arteries across Gloucester, Cape Ann and elsewhere — while essentially forcing drivers to tuck in their cars at home or in another safe parking area before the brunt of the blizzard even hit.
During the Blizzard of ‘78, 35 years to the week before the Blizzard of 2013, Gov. Michael Dukakis issued a similar travel ban — but not until after the storm had already struck with full force, and by then it was far too little too late. In this case, the governor’s gutsy call seemed to work, and crews from Gloucester to the Berkshires were able to do the job we’ve come to expect them to do.
In Gloucester, yes, the city had to tow some 15 cars in the midst of the street parking ban (see news story, Page 1). And that may seem drastic as well. Yet this was a drastic storm, and city DPW crews and contractors could not be expected to leave these vehicles in place and go around – or come back later — while handling a full two feet of snow. Indeed, one can argue that it’s partly because of this enforcement that city crews this morning are as far along as they are in a mountainous storm cleanup effort that is destined to go for days.
Across Cape Ann and beyond, it became clear by Saturday morning that the only way any families and communities would effectively weather this storm was with the cooperation of their public safety and public works crews and their friends and neighbors. And that’s what happened. The fact that some of that cooperation had to be leveraged dire warnings or potentially excessive penalties doesn’t diminish the fact that, for most of us, these programs and others worked.
Our hearts go out to those residents and business owners who sustained heavy damage — especially to those on Gloucester’s Salt Island Road and on Rockport’s Bearskin Neck. And we wish them the best in their own recovery.
But overall, it’s gratifying to know that — incredibly — there have no reports of significant injuries, or worse, and that just two full days after the storm, amid the signs of damage, there are even more signs that Gloucester’s and Cape Ann’s community spirit has once again pulled through as strong as ever.
Our thanks go out to all the crews who worked so hard to ensure our safety — and to the thousands of residents whose cooperation paid off as well. We made it — again. And everyone on Cape Ann played a role in making that happen.