The Ice Storm of 1998 Remembered
January 4, 2008
Ten years ago, one of the worst natural disasters in Maine history struck, first quietly, and then with the crack of falling trees and explosion of transformers. The Ice Storm of 1998 began in the first week of January. It extended over almost three weeks and its effects were felt for months and years by towns, families and business owners struggling to recover.
“No one wants to think about a disaster of this magnitude happening again, “ says MEMA Director Rob McAleer. “But this anniversary prompts us to think about it. As a homeowner, do I have what I need to weather another ice storm? As a business owner, do I have emergency plans in place to survive something like that? We not only need to think about it, we need to make sure we each take responsibility to prepare for the next disaster.”
The Ice Storm’s impacts were far-reaching:
- Over half of the state’s population out of power, some for well over two weeks
- Schools, business, transportation systems and government disrupted
- All sixteen Maine Counties declared federal disaster areas
- An unprecedented activation of the Maine National Guard
- Six deaths
- Radio communication systems knocked out
- $48 million in FEMA-eligible costs to state, county and local governments and infrastructure
- $6.5 million in grants and loans to individuals and businesses
- Damages to public utilities, to forestry, to private property and industry, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Those were the damages. The overwhelmingly positive outcome of the Ice Storm was the knowledge that Maine people, even in the face of this level of disaster, possess the greatest resource possible: each other. “Neighbor helping neighbor” may well have saved lives. Neighbors working together certainly helped hundreds of families to weather the enormous stress of the storm and its aftermath.
But recovery was not instantaneous. MEMA and state and local partners were involved with individuals and businesses making personal recoveries for months and, in some cases, even years.
Ten years later, Maine is better prepared for all disasters, but an event of this magnitude would still stress the emergency response, social and economic fabric of the state, as it did then. Some of the improvements that the state has seen include:
- Improved state, county and local response coordination. Always a strength for Maine, more widespread and uniform training and exercise have enhanced this capability.
- Emergency assistance compacts with all other states, and eastern Canadian provinces. These compacts are supported by plans and procedures which are regularly used and exercised, making it easier for states and provinces to help each other in a major disaster.
- Deployment of emergency generators to towns across the state, ensuring that many more emergency shelters and public safety buildings can continue to operate in a power outage. This has been made possible with homeland security funding.
“I’m pleased with the progress we continue to make statewide in emergency preparedness, “ MEMA Director McAleer says, “But as families, neighbors, business owners and public officials, we all own a piece of being ready to weather the next Ice Storm. And we can all do more”