At the Pal house in East Windham, tree limbs were down leading to 12 days without power after the ’98 storm. Contributed / Andrew Pal

For those of us who lived through it, the ice storm of ’98 is one of those memories that remains  vivid in our minds. The storm began as rain on Jan. 7, but quickly accelerated into freezing rain as the temperatures began to plummet. By the time people were driving home from work, the streets were like ice rinks and people who lived on hills were struggling to make it to their driveways.

Haley Pal, a Windham resident and active member of the Windham Historical Society, can be contacted at [email protected]

By the next morning, more than 80,000 people found themselves in the dark. There was a thick coat of ice on trees, power lines and just about every outdoor surface. Over the next few days, things just got worse. By Jan. 9, Gov.  Angus King had declared Maine in a state of emergency. More than 500,000 people in the state were out of power and the National Guard was deployed to assist CMP in restoring lines.

Here in Windham, the town was at a standstill. “For probably the first and only time in history, Town Hall offices were closed for three days because there was no power,” said Town Clerk Linda Morrell. “When it was restored, I remember the ice was so thick, at least two inches on Route 202, and it made a weird sound when driving over it.”

On Highland Lake, Kyle Allen remembers going outside to a sloping and slippery yard to gather firewood while branches snapped all around the property. “It was treacherous,” she said.

At my house in East Windham, we were without power for 12 days. I remember cooking chicken and dumplings and soups on our woodstove. My husband went out into the yard to get buckets of snow we could melt and use to flush our toilets. The house was lit by candlelight and oil lamps at night, and in the background, trees could be heard snapping from the weight of the ice and it sounded like gunshots going off all around us. We had to shower at my parent’s house in North Windham where power had been restored before heading to work each day during the week. It was like being a pioneer in the late 20th century.

Despite the harsh conditions, Mainers maintained a sense of humor, as evidenced by these T-shirts produced by Bill and Shelly Hill of Superior Images in Windham. Contributed / Linda Morrell

Across town, off River Road, Paula and David Sparks have a home on the river. “We were out of power for a little more than a week. I remember the ice stayed on the trees for several days and it actually was quite beautiful when the sun came out,” David said. Paula recollected making brownies for David’s birthday on a Coleman oven on top of their gas cook stove. They heated with wood, so that was not an issue.

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But not everyone in Windham had a woodstove and that left many with neither power nor heat. The town opened up the Public Safety Building to serve as a shelter for residents in need. One boy interviewed by WCSH who had spent the night in the shelter said the town provided comfortable cots and a free hot meal from Burger King for breakfast. He, in true kid fashion, was “having fun.”

At the height of the storm, 700,000 of Maine’s then population of 1.2 million people found themselves in the dark. It was the worst storm in CMP’s history. Almost a week after it began, on Jan. 13, there were still 112,000 people living with no electricity. Things were so bad, President Bill Clinton declared 17 Maine counties a disaster zone. Vice President Al Gore paid the state a visit a couple days later and promised $28 million in disaster aid to help with relief and recovery efforts. Overall, the storm caused over $100 million in damages in Maine.

It was a hard time for many, but it was also a time when people showed their tendencies to be good neighbors. All across Windham and the entire state, Mainers found themselves caring for each other. At the historic Parson Smith House on River Road, Elaine Dickinson treated her neighbors to meals cooked in the house’s enormous fireplace and in the authentic beehive oven. Others provided rooms to friends who needed a warm place to stay or provided a hot, home-cooked meal to neighbors in need. CMP crews worked day and night to restore as much power as possible day by day.

I was working from home the day my power came back. I can still remember the feeling of elation seeing those crews working on the line that would reconnect me to the world. The lights suddenly blinked and the refrigerator started humming, which sounded like the most beautiful music I had ever heard.

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