AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Emergency Management Agency doesn’t expect a tsunami to crash into the state anytime soon. If it did, the coast probably would see only a 2-meter rise in sea level. But the agency won thousands of dollars from a national grant for emergency preparedness anyhow.
Now the state agency, with the help of the Maine Department of Transportation, is installing more than 100 signs along the coast to help people evacuate the seaside in case of an emergency.
Maine will spend about $30,000 on the signs, including installation, with all of the funding provided by a tsunami preparedness grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We identified evacuation routes so if a storm were coming for the coast we would have a plan,” said Lynette Miller, the spokeswoman for Maine Emergency Management Agency.
The evacuation signs likely would help only during a hurricane or a violent nor’easter, Miller said.
But, according to several coastal county emergency management directors, the local residents know where to go in case of a major storm. The signs are mostly for visitors.
“Most of the people who would be moving on the roads will be tourists. The locals aren’t going to go anywhere. And if they do, they know how to get to Bangor without being stuck in a traffic jam on Route 1,” said Dale D. Rowley, director of Waldo County Emergency Management Agency.
Rowley suggested MEMA put the signs up by the Penobscot Narrows Bridge for people coming out of the Bar Harbor area.
“The biggest impact on us would be an evacuation of the tourists coming from Hancock [County] and a few of our own. We don’t want them jamming up all the roads in Waldo County so we want to head them up to Bangor or west to Augusta,” Rowley said. “I’m not worried about the locals, they know every back road.”
Most hotels in Waldo County are near the sea, so it would make sense to move visitors inland to get housing if there were an emergency, Rowley said. Locals would head to Mount View High School in Thorndike, but Waldo County hasn’t had to open an emergency shelter since the ice storm of 1998.
Lincoln County is in a similar boat. The population jumps from about 35,000 in January to 150,000 in July.
“I support the program because in the summertime when our population blows up, if we had to evacuate it would be helpful for the tourists. The locals certainly know how to evacuate,” said
Tim Pellerin, director of the Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency.
Pellerin said that along the rest of the East Coast, all other states have similar signs. This, he said, gets Maine up to speed.
Ray Sisk, director of the Knox County Emergency Management Agency in Rockland, hopes people never have to use the signs. And, according to recent history, they might not.
“In my time here I can’t think of too many times we would have used this. We have had a few hurricanes come this way that could have been problematic if they tracked differently.”
Maine’s coast has experienced weather-, but not earthquake-, related tsunamis in the recent past, but they have not been severe because they happened to hit at low tide. A few years ago, Sisk said, Boothbay experienced about a 7-foot sea rise caused by a weather-driven tsunami. Because it came at low tide, it did not cause much damage.
The new signs will be posted from York County to Washington County in the coming weeks. Some signs might be placed inland, in places such as Bangor that have tidal rivers prone to tidal flooding.
The new indicators will be regular, metal signs that have an arrow to point to major inland routes. If there were an emergency, some of the pivotal roadways might be manned to better direct people from those specific circumstances, according to MEMA’s Miller.