June 24, 2018
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This storm was bad, but covering the Ice Storm of 1998 was a different story

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

The only discomfort I experienced during the ice storm of 2013 were pangs of guilt and bouts of sympathy for the thousands who have spent days and nights, including Christmas, in the cold and darkness that such a storm brings.

I had power at my house and I was home with my family, unlike the thousands of workers who have been battling icy limbs, hot tempers and hostile weather conditions to get people and their homes reconnected.

The Ice Storm of 1998 was a different story.

My place during that storm was at my desk in the BDN newsroom.

My role was to gather the stories reporters were sending from our 11 bureaus across northern and eastern Maine, combine them with the latest information being sent from a multitude of agencies including the Maine Emergency Management Agency, Maine National Guard, Department of Public Safety, governor’s office, American Red Cross and dozens of others, and craft a story from it all.

It was back in the day when faxes were the primary method of communication for media and when our readers received their news via a printed paper on their front stoop.

I don’t remember looking up very often during those dark days and when it all started it was very dark indeed, including in the BDN newsroom.

Historically there is no greater source of pride for any newspaper than the commitment to publish and deliver the newspaper regardless of conditions.

Any employee of the Bangor Daily News knows the only time the paper did not do so was during the great New Year’s storm of 1962-63 that dumped 3 to 4 feet of snow on Bangor.

The city was paralyzed. The BDN printed newspapers that day, but couldn’t get them out of the building and no one could get to the BDN offices to get one.

It was a legendary day in the history of the paper and one everyone hoped would never be repeated.

The Ice Storm of 1998 left 300,000 people without power, resulted in $100 million in damage and claimed the lives of 12 people.

It also nearly was the first time in the BDN’s history that it would not print a newspaper.

Mark Woodward was the executive editor and he recalled the day of Thursday, Jan. 8, in a column he wrote a few days later.

“It was 7 p.m. Thursday. Across the Penobscot River, the blue flashes of arcing power lines lit up blacked-out Brewer. We sat, frustrated, not discouraged, in total darkness in the newsroom on the second floor. Sleet continued to crackle on the windows. There had been no electricity since 4 o’clock. Without electricity, there would be no Friday paper.”

I was seated at my desk. My computer, the only one in the building turned on, was limping along on limited generator power. Bangor Daily News publisher Rick Warren was holding a flashlight above me so I could read press releases that had come in earlier and extricate the most important information from them to put in the story.

The Main Street offices had no power and neither did the production and printing press in Hampden. Things looked grim, but we kept working in case the situation changed.

At 8:45 p.m., according to Woodward’s published account, it was “time to pull the plug.”

“No paper Friday, we told the staff. People started heading for the door in Hampden and Bangor. As the bad news was being conveyed to Publisher Richard J. Warren, the lights suddenly popped on. ‘What do you want to do?’ asked the publisher. ‘Let’s put out a newspaper,’ was the reply.

“Over the next few hours, there were occasional flickers, but the power held. Hampden went dark again, but Bangor finished its work by 11 p.m. and passed its product to Hampden. The production facility began a vigil. Hydro restored power there around midnight. By 1:30 a.m., 12,000 copies with the banner of “MAINE ICED IN” had been run off the press. They were delivered to the BDN office on Main Street, supermarkets and convenience stores in Bangor.”

The papers were printed only in black and white and there was no home delivery. The risk of downed power lines and icy roads was too great to send drivers and paper carriers into harm’s way, Woodward wrote.

On Friday morning, Jan. 9, Rick Warren stood in the lobby of the BDN office building and handed papers out for free to those who managed to get there to pick one up.

The storm would go on for days, but the BDN managed to keep power after that day and it did its job of printing and delivering newspapers to otherwise isolated readers across northern and eastern Maine who, without electricity, were desperate for the information within its pages.

I was happy to be home and comfortable with my family during this ice storm, but I’ll never regret being stuck right in the middle of the BDN during the storm of 1998.

You can reach Renee Ordway at reneeordway@gmail.com.

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