A Look Back: The Ice Storm of ’98 – Part 1

Catherine Pegram

Updated 2 years ago

This year, TV5, Maine’s first TV station, is celebrating sixty years on the air. So we’ll be taking a look back at some of the biggest news stories through the years.We begin with Ice Storm of ’98.It was 15 years ago, this week, when Maine descended into darkness – for some it would take days, even weeks to recover. The Ice Storm of ’98 left more than 800,000 people without power, when trees and power lines came crashing down.Even now, many consider it the worst natural disaster in the Maine’s history. Here’s a look back at the storm that coated the state.It’s the sounds that are as much a part of the Ice Storm of ’98 as it is the sights.”They’re really much worse – CRASH! – this is what we’ve listened to,” said Lovern Stockwell, an Ice Storm survivor.Over and over again, ice coated tree branches and power lines came crashing down as freezing rain, snow and sub-zero temperatures blanketed Maine for days.Kevin O’Connell – a lineman for Bangor Hydro – remembers a co-worker watching his back. “Lterally he had to spot me while I was working on the house because there were tree branches coming down, all around us and it was just like bombs going off when they came down.”And then there was the darkness that followed. At one point nearly 70-percent of Mainers lost power. O’Connell says, “I remember one of the first nights driving back over the bridge to Brewer and Brewer was black. That was a strange feeling. So that was like, holy cow, we’re in for a big one. “Local historian Dick Shaw says with 6 deaths and $300 million in damage, the storm will go down in history as horrendous. “We should never forget just how troubled people were – it was a true crisis situation.”For many, the slow and steady build up of the storm certainly didn’t hint that a crisis was coming.Bill Cohen was the spokesperson for Bangor Hydro at the time. “I remember walking out with the president and chief operating officer of Bangor Hydro to go to lunch at noon and there was a little sprinkle and looking around and saying, oh this is nothing. And by the time nighttime had rolled around, it was absolute devastation.”As a whole, one of the hardest hit areas was Washington County. Ice toppled a nearly nine-mile stretch of lines and poles. Scott Richards, a line superindent for Bangor Hydro, said at the time, “Your heart sinks because you know you’re not going to be able to get this fixed overnight.”Richards was one of the front men on the repairs of Line 66.It took 29 days and supplies from out-of-state to bring it back to life. “I mean 150 poles, nine miles of line that all had to come from somewhere. Some of the poles came from as far away as Oklahoma – one guy showed up on the empty roads and had never even seen snow before.”The storm was a game changer in many ways, as power companies moved into crisis management mode and learned the value of communication. Cohen says, “At the time Bangor Hydro’s policy was don’t tell anybody where crews were. We broke that policy and we found the temperature of everybody came down. If you knew you were going to be another day, you weren’t happy but at least you knew.”The Ice Storm of ’98 reminded a lot of people about the power of Mother Nature and the determination of Mainers to pull through some of the most dire situations.Everybody has a memory of the ice storm – whether they never lost power or lived without it for weeks. We’ll share some of those experiences and even some fond memories in Part 2 of A Look Back at the Ice Storm of ’98.


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