Emergency crews respond during the Ice Storm of '98.
Emergency vehicles and crew gathered at Academy Street in Hallowell reviewing the damage caused by the ice storm of January 1998. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine Memory Network

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Twenty-five years ago, Maine was a disaster area. The Ice Storm of ‘98 knocked out power, blocked roads, closed schools, sent thousands to emergency shelters and took at least five lives.

The memory of that storm has been permanently etched in the minds of people across the state, as if it were frozen in time. The experience of it, and the way Mainers rallied to each other, has similarly been locked for posterity in the pages of the Bangor Daily News. So as Maine rightly reflects on this historic storm, we’ve turned once again to our archives. Here is the BDN editorial from Tuesday, Jan. 13, 1998, fittingly titled “Pulling together”:

If every picture tells a story, the front of Monday’s MaineDay section tells the human side of natural disaster.

Rich Aitken trudges across a sleety landscape of shattered trees and drooping power lines to deliver water and medicine to a neighbor. Her face showing both fatigue and determination,  Selectwoman Maxine Clement grips the microphone she uses to guide rescue operations. Fire Chief Dan Lawson, operating on six hours sleep in three days, makes door-to-door checks on stranded residents while he directs volunteer chain-saw crews in their efforts to clear the roads.

When this is over, in a week or two or more, when the lights flicker on and furnaces roar to life, when schools reopen and business gets back to usual, those images from Monroe — representing the thousands of selfless acts of concern occurring throughout Maine — will be all that remains of the Great Ice Storm of ‘98.

In years to come, the four days of ice just ended and the long recovery that now follows will be something few will forget and many will have cause to remember with pride. Despite conditions of spooky darkness and numbing cold, Maine’s people, businesses and emergency agencies have worked together to generate warmth through concern and sacrifice.

But it’s far from over and this calamity already has a tragic side. Two are dead from improperly operating generators in their basements, several more are seriously ill from the fumes. Those who are staying in their heatless homes, especially the elderly, may noy be making the wise choice. The Red Cross reports that blood supplies, always depleted after the holidays, now are critically low because donors simply have not been able to get out. Downed power lines and weakened tree limbs still lie in wait. Above all, this is the time to stay concerned and stay cautious.  

Sadly, a few have not distinguished themselves. Scattered reports are popping up of door-to-door saw crews telling folks, older folks mostly, that they won’t get their electricity back until they pay someone — namely them — to clear up fallen limbs. One hopes there is an especially hot circle of hell reserved for such opportunists.

And, once again a catastrophe reveals the serious disconnect that exists between those in need and the federal government. A full week after the first wave of sleet and the first outages, the awesome resources of federal agencies —  including the military — that could bring relief sit idle while the appropriate forms are filled out. It’s a scenario that’s been replayed through far too many hurricanes, floods and tornadoes —  in the federal world, a disaster must be quantified in dollars before it can be alleviated. In the end; the lesson of the Great Storm will be one we’ve always known — it’s friends and neighbors pulling together that make the difference.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...