One for the record books Blizzard of '96: East Coast blockbuster storm shows humans still at Nature's mercy.

January 09, 1996

THIS SURE WAS one for the record books.

Marylanders were far from the only victims of the monstrous, crippling blizzard that started Saturday night. By the time the winter storm began weakening yesterday, it had paralyzed much of the East Coast from the Carolinas to New England. Practically everything halted on the ground, from road traffic to airplanes. The postal service found itself unable to make deliveries, many companies could not operate normally.

The storm came just as a three-week shutdown of federal programs had been ended and hundreds of thousands of furloughed government workers, many in Maryland, were preparing to go back to work. Mountains of drifting snow as well as unpassable roads and rail tracks forced them to take another day off.

"It's kind of God's revenge on the craziness of Washington, I guess," said John Sturdivant, head of the American Federation of Government Employees union.

While the high banks of snow provided gorgeous sights, the impact of the storm inspired awe. Humans may have developed an unprecedented mastery of technology from complicated machinery to computers but they are yet to conquer Nature's force. A monster storm can still render tens of millions of people helpless.

Fortunately, the storm came over a weekend. Most people had ample warning to get prepared and to stock up on necessities, from milk to toilet paper. Waking up Sunday morning, even the skeptics realized that attempting to drive would be foolhardy. Those who did go out of their driveways often ended up stranded. The accumulated snow was just too deep even for many four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening made the right decision in declaring a state of emergency Sunday. That mobilized the Maryland National Guard's all-terrain Humvees to help with emergency transports to hospitals and bolstered the strength and mobility of struggling police and fire departments in the Baltimore metropolitan area and beyond.

Digging out will be a protracted task, particularly if forecasts about another winter storm later this week prove to be correct. So far, Maryland has been lucky, though. While a paralyzing storm always carries high economic costs, there were no early reports of lives lost.

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