- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - In 1979, Hollis Stambaugh was in her fifth year as a city planner and emergency manager in Lancaster.

On Wednesday, March 28, the city received notice of “a pretty serious situation” developing less than 30 miles to the west at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, she said.

“Nobody knew what this meant,” she said. “We just knew we needed to get things together pretty quickly.”

Stambaugh began working out a city evacuation plan in collaboration with Art Morris, Lancaster’s public works and emergency management director and future mayor.

“Our jobs overlapped,” Morris said.

The year before, Hollis, a Leola native and 1974 Millersville grad, had begun developing a disaster preparedness plan, but it was still a work in progress.

The questions were myriad. How would residents be notified? How could elderly and handicapped people be moved? What about food and other supplies for officials remaining behind?

“This was absolutely on the fly,” she said. “Evacuating the city wasn’t something that had been planned or anticipated up to this point.”

The city planned to use public buses to evacuate residents, not realizing the county was planning to use them, too, she said.

Things happened very quickly the first few days, Morris said.

Fortunately, though thousands of Lancaster County residents chose to leave on their own, a full evacuation proved unnecessary.

Nevertheless, the incident that began 35 years ago at 4 a.m. on March 28, 1979, remains the worst nuclear accident to take place on American soil.

Three Mile Island was a wake-up call for the industry and the community,” said Eric Epstein, who for decades has been an activist with the citizens group Three Mile Island Alert.

Three Mile Island’s lesson is that things happen,” said Morris, who became mayor in 1980. “If you think something isn’t going to happen, and you get lazy, that’s a mistake.”

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