Hurricanes are few and far between in Maine, but when they hit in the Twin Cities area, they leave memories for generations to come.

The track of Hurricane Leslie caught our attention in the past few days, but its effect will be minimal as it skirts the Maine coast on its way to Newfoundland. Nevertheless, some of the storms of the past 50 or 60 years packed plenty of wallop for Lewiston and Auburn.

When I decided to look up newspaper accounts of those big blows, I found a few surprises in the pages of the Lewiston Evening Journal and in a very impressive website developed by Wayne Cotterly, emergency management director in Poland and a National Weather Service observer. His research spans a 300-year history of New England hurricanes, and the stories of the later storms give extensive detail about their impacts in Androscoggin County.

Cotterly told me yesterday about his fascination with hurricanes that led to the Internet site he has maintained over the past 10 years. That website can be found by an Internet search for “Maine hurricanes.”

“It has become somewhat of a hobby,” he said. In addition to information about each storm’s origin and track, Cotterly’s site includes many fascinating facts about what happened in Androscoggin County when these famous storms blew through.

At first, the storms that many of us remember had feminine names — Carol, Donna, Edna — and then the names alternated between male and female, including Gloria and Bob. Before that, the designations were less personal.

“The New England Hurricane of 1938” caught just about everyone by surprise, and it did tremendous damage. Forecasting and warnings on radio and in newspapers improved quickly, and the Twin Cities were much better prepared for “The Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944.”

I was 5 years old when that storm hit, and I don’t have any recollection of it, but Cotterly’s references to news accounts brought that event right home for me.

“In Auburn, two barns were destroyed by the high winds,“ he wrote. “One was located in West Auburn and the other located on North River Road.”

I looked up the story in the Sept. 15, 1944, edition of the Lewiston Evening Journal. A storm story said, “An open-ended barn on the Fred Oleis farm, No. River Road, Auburn, was up-ended in the storm and landed in the Androscoggin River.” That barn was within sight of our family home, and it’s amazing to me that I don’t recall my parents or grandparents mentioning that event.

The other barn destroyed by the storm was at the Earl Wilber farm, Upper Lake Street, Auburn.

Another significant part of the 1944 storm was the exceptional response to three blasts of the Civil Defense siren around 1 a.m. when the wind and rain was reaching peak intensity. Reports said it was the first emergency alert to CD forces in L-A since the organization was set up. It was still wartime, and that sound of sirens in the night must have been especially terrifying to area residents.

About 320 CD volunteers answered that stormy middle-of-the-night alarm, as well as seven motor corps cars and personnel for an emergency medical station at Thorne’s Corner Grange in Lewiston. The CD response was rated an important success.

It was late August of 1954 when the next significant hurricane roared toward Central Maine. It was named Carol, and it broke records for the amount of damage caused. However, the record was soon surpassed when just 10 days later Edna followed, leaving $300,000 worth of destruction in Androscoggin County and $15 million statewide.

Hurricane Donna hit in mid-September 1960, and Hurricane Gloria came in late September 1985, delivering the biggest hit since Carol and Edna in 1954. Hurricane Bob arrived in late August 1991.

In all of these storms, residents and officials dealt with many downed trees, damaged roofs, power outages, ruined apple crops and flooding. There were injuries for a variety of reasons, but fortunately the Twin Cities were spared any loss of life.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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