The Ice Storm
If Mainers remember nothing else about 1998, they remember the Ice Storm. For three days in January freezing rain fell across all of Maine south of Millinocket, covering the state in ice up to three inches thick. Highways turned into hockey rinks. Trees and powerlines bent and broke under the weight, and the lights started going out.
Despite fielding every repair crew they had and bringing in reinforcements from out of state, Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydroelectric reported some three hundred thousand households - more than half the state's population - were without power by the evening of January 9, including all of Washington County. Facing the worst natural disaster to hit Maine in modern times, Governor Angus King called the national director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and announced, "Get out your checkbook."
The Ice Storm of '98 was a lesson in the fragility of modern conveniences and the strength of neighbors and friends. Mainers coped with lanterns and woodstoves and portable radios, falling back on the old tradition of "gettin' by". They went door to door checking on neighbors and bringing food and water and fuel to elderly residents. Three thousand moved into the 121 shelters that opened in high school gyms and National Guard armories. Amazingly, only three deaths were blamed on the storm.
Help poured into the state in the weeks that followed. Powerline repair crews and equipment came from as far away as Ohio and South Carolina, some flown in aboard massive Air Force transports. Even Vice President Al Gore showed up in a barn coat and work gloves to help clear fallen branches.
Twenty-three days later the last darkened house was reconnected to a working powerline. The final tally would put damages at $320 million.
The lessons in gettin' by remain priceless.