I had to make a decision: take West River Road to Augusta, or Interstate 95.

It was the first day of the Ice Storm of 1998 and we had lost power at the Morning Sentinel newsroom on Front Street in Waterville.

We were directed to get to our sister paper, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, to write our stories.

Road conditions were hazardous everywhere so it was anybody’s guess as to which route was safest.

I decided on West River Road, assuming I could at least stop at a house if I landed in a ditch. I knew the chances of getting a tow truck to fetch me if that occurred were slim, as they were beyond busy.

Being a native Mainer, I prided myself on the ability to maneuver dicey winter roads. But my experience and skills were no match for what I would encounter on that journey south.

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The road was icy, snowy, slippery and littered with tree branches caked in ice, some so large it was like maneuvering an obstacle course. With every mile I managed to conquer, I wondered if I’d make it through another. I kept telling myself to concentrate on getting from driveway to driveway.

I made it to the Kennebec Journal on Western Avenue in Augusta by the skin of my teeth, claimed an empty desk and pounded out a storm story that never was published because we lost power there also and the story was squashed.

Reporting the news in the Waterville area during the ice storm, 25 years ago this week, was akin to being in a war zone, with devastation visible everywhere.

Trees and utility poles were snapped in half and lay across roads with live wires strewn about; trees, poles, branches and bushes were covered with thick ice and traveling was dangerous. I lived in Skowhegan at the time and lost power only for a few hours, but I drove into Waterville every day.

Most of Waterville was without power and many streets were impassable with only major roadways clear, such as College Avenue and Kennedy Memorial Drive.

Central Maine Power Co. crews worked around the clock to restore power, while public works, fire and police officials worked to keep people safe and drove them to shelters. Grocery stores were mobbed with shoppers from both in and out of town trying to get necessities such as water and food they could eat without having to cook it.

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Hundreds from all walks of life stayed at the Harold Alfond Athletic Center field house at Colby College in Waterville, where they were provided cots, blankets and food. The American Red Cross staffed the shelter and medical workers were on hand to attend to the ill and administer medications.

I interviewed a 77-year-old man in a wheelchair who woke up in his Waterville home a few days earlier to discover the thermometers registered 20 degrees, both inside and outside of his house. His grandson drove him to the shelter.

In the Mayflower Heights area of Oakland, I interviewed several families who were sharing a generator that they moved from house to house about every four hours. They had no heat, no lights, no hot water, and couldn’t take showers.

A few days into the storm, the neighbors were huddled around a kitchen table with their children, drinking warm coffee they had heated with use of the generator, which roared outside. Plastic containers of all shapes and sizes were lined up on the kitchen counter, filled with water. A sheet covered the entrance to the living room, to keep warmth in the kitchen. Whichever family had the generator at any one time cooked food and the neighbors joined them for meals.

David Stucki, an orthopedic physician’s assistant who was there, said they all felt fortunate to be able to share a generator.

“If you don’t have a fireplace or a wood stove, you’re sunk — and we don’t,” he said. “It wouldn’t be so bad if we knew when the end was.”

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Other people weren’t so fortunate. A well-known certified public accountant in Waterville, Martin McCluskey, died at his home on Trafton Road in Waterville of carbon monoxide poisoning from having a gasoline-powered generator in the basement. His wife, Gladys, also was poisoned and taken to the hospital.

On one of the powerless days at the Morning Sentinel, two colleagues and I headed down I-95 to work at the Kennebec Journal. The interstate was a treacherous alley of snow and ice, with broken, frozen trees, limbs hanging down and everything white and still. It resembled nuclear winter.

We arrived at the newspaper where other reporters and editors were already at work and we sat down at empty desks and hit the keyboards.

Mike Sexton, our publisher at the time who usually dressed impeccably in a suit and tie and no hair out of place, strolled through the office in casual attire, looking haggard. As he approached my desk, I thought he was going to praise me for being there.

Instead, he pointed his finger at me and declared, “You’ve had a shower!”

It was obvious, from my shiny hair and clean clothes, that I was not suffering with my colleagues who had no heat or hot water. I felt a twinge of guilt, as I did throughout the storm, seeing so many people struggling.

While reporting the news was challenging during the ice storm, at least I had a warm bed to go home to at night — and I knew just how lucky I was.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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