Ice Storm of ‘98: 25 Years Later Part 2

Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 9:14 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - 25 years ago Tuesday night, Maine was under a blanket of ice.

What would come to be known as the Ice Storm of ‘98 blasted the state and knocked out power to almost a million Mainers.

Senator Angus King was in his first term as Maine’s Governor at the time. We spoke with him about what it was like trying to lead the state out of the dark.

It’s really going to test us - I think we are passing with flying colors.

“One of the things Brian about when you’re when you’re confronted with a challenge like that there’s no manual. There’s nothing off the shelf that says, here’s how to do here’s how to deal with a historic ice storm. That’s going to knock out power for 700,000 people,” King said.

In uncharted territory - King says his duties were really two fold.

“One was the administration, the mechanics, being sure that shelters had cots. I remember searching for cots and being sure that we had adequate staff to maintain the electric infrastructure and one of the problems during that period was the the the lines would come down, they’d be repaired, and then they’d come down again, because of the buildup of ice on the lines,” King said.

“And I remember driving into Augusta in the middle of the night and you could hear explosions. It’s kind of like cannon shots. And those were transformers blowing up.”

“The other was to be visible to be reassuring to people that somebody had their back.”

“My little boy and I he was then eight or nine years old. We were on our way to tour the shelters where people were, were spending their time and we walked into the Dunkin Donuts in Brunswick and I walked up to the counter and said, I want to buy all of them, because I was going to take them with me to the shelter and this lady behind me in line says, can I just have one chocolate cruller,” King said.

“One of the things that we we realized and it frankly hadn’t occurred to me until this happened is your oil burner won’t fire without electricity. So it wasn’t it wasn’t just a case of people. You know, not being able to use a refrigerator or or an electrical appliance. The houses were cold.”

“That’s where we started the the neighbor to neighbor campaign because people were not only that without electricity In many cases, they were without heat,” King said.

Then came a visit from then Vice President Al Gore.

“I’ll never forget the helicopter trip from Bangor Downeast because we flew over the the Maine high tension transmission line, and it looked like a giant I remember thinking it looked like a giant had walked and just stepped on the towers,” King said.

“They were down on the ground they were twisted the wires were everywhere. And it was it was a stunning and this was the Maine transmission corridor from Bangor and Bangor hydro up into Washington County.”

“We made one stop and Al Gore got out and immediately went out the first thing he did was grab a wire and all the ads on TV were whatever you do don’t touch a wire. Well, there goes the vice president united states, you know and I had sense enough to hang back on that particular stuff.”

“As he was leaving the last thing he said to me was, Angus let me know if you need anything. So remembering what Al Gore said. I called him that morning and said how about a training mission for those great big transport aircraft to the Brunswick Naval Air Station,” King said.

“And by the way, if it comes from North Carolina, you could bring us these bucket trucks. Sure enough a day later. These huge airplanes, I was there at Brunswick, huge airplanes landed the nose opened up. Out came the bucket trucks. It was like it was like the cavalry arriving.”

“It turns out these guys from North Carolina weren’t dressed for the main winter. Leon Gorman at LL Bean heard about that and sent them all parkas.”

“That was what came through. The Maine community was manifested in a way that I had never experienced before and really haven’t seen since,” King said.