Blown Away by the Blizzard of ’78

By John Galluzzo

The old-timers of the South Shore used to talk about the Minot’s Light Gale of 1851 and say that nothing measured up to its ferocity. The next generation remembered the Portland Gale of 1898 as the worst storm in the history of the South Shore. Then, on February 6, 1978, Mother Nature decided to rewrite history once again. The Blizzard of 1978, as it was simply called, flooded Hull, paralyzed the region under a blanket of snow and stranded 3,500 cars and trucks on Route 128 as they tried to get home. There were 14 commuters that died of carbon monoxide poisoning as they tried to stay warm. Along the coast, winds and waves blasted homes off foundations and threw ships ashore.

This winter, another powerful storm hit the South Shore, causing devastating flooding in waterfront neighborhoods and inspiring many people to draw comparisons to its powerful predecessor.

In remembrance of the 40th anniversary of the Blizzard of ‘78, the Scituate Historical Society recalled the dangers and the heroics of the infamous storm at their annual meeting on February 10.

Scenes like this one on Rebecca Road in Scituate played out up and down the coast. Why some houses survived and some didn’t, we will never know. This photo was taken on the “return” side of the Scituate Lighthouse and Cedar Point loop. The three houses on the left still stand today (one is tucked behind the wreckage of the fourth) and a new one has replaced the once-proud “cottage” on the shore.

Snow-blasted from the east and coated with ice like many structures along the shore, Scituate Lighthouse mostly withstood the storm. The one section that did not fare well was the covered walkway between the house and the lighthouse. It has since been rebuilt. The parking area, which was covered with rocks, sand and debris, is now bordered by a riprap stone wall on the eastern side.

Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis dispatched members of the National Guard to the state’s worst hit areas, including Scituate. Navigating downed power lines and who knows what else lay under the snow, ice and debris, they worked to clear roads and restore access to local neighborhoods.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, neighbors met neighbors in the streets and offered to share food and shovel pathways. An unusual camaraderie of survivorship arose that is still felt today. If anyone states that they’ve been on the South Shore since 1977 or earlier, the question naturally arises: where were you when the blizzard hit?

Eleven days after the storm, David Ball, a longtime Scituate school teacher and the president of the Scituate Historical Society, had to get special permission from the Scituate police to access his home on Rebecca Road. He still has the makeshift passes in his collection today—memories of an amazing experience he hopes never to relive.

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