Survivor Journals

Survivor Journals:   Year I

Round 5     by Paulineee

The challenge assignment for round 5:

Every picture tells a story, or so the saying goes. The challenge this week is to post a picture, and tell the story that goes along with it. Could be a true story that you experienced or an original fictional story.


Ice Storm 1998.


This picture was taken three years ago, perhaps to the day of this writing (January 7, 2001). That's my house on the far right; my trees except for the one farthest left, my bushes, and my car - the one enveloped by the tree limb.

This was of course the now mythic ice storm of 1998.

We had just returned from two weeks in Florida, and were aware that a storm was forecast. Our travel was completed ahead of the weather system and we arrived home Sunday January 4.

Freezing rain began falling the next day.

And falling.

And falling.

Everything was covered with ice. Not just ice, but ICE. Major ice. Ice heavy enough to do this to electric line pylons. (look for the second photo down the page.)

Power began to fail sporadically throughout the area on Tuesday. The main issue of course was heat; Light was also a concern as it becomes dark around 4:30 PM at that time of year in Montreal. Some homes had wood stoves or fireplaces; we had neither.

It was difficult to sleep because of the sound of the ice tapping against the roof and windows; I remember walking around my house in the dark in the middle of the night and watching the tree limb (the one pictured above) break off. It fell in slow motion, right on top of my car. There was no damage.. the accumulation of ice served as a shield.

The sight of it, though, was frightening.. eerie and frightening.

By Wednesday, about half the homes in our suburb were blacked out; we decided to go ahead with our bowling league because the lanes had power, and we thought it would be better to be there anyway. About half of the league attended; the other half is still complaining about it.

Wednesday evening our home was dark; I remember seeking warmth and light at the local Wal-Mart. The power eventually went out there too, so we crossed the street to the competition, where it was still on. It felt like the walls were closing in on us.

I don't remember if we abandoned house on Wednesday or Thursday. I phoned the manager of my father's apartment building in Montreal, thinking that if they had power we might move in there for the duration. Luckily the apartment is near a small hospital, and the area was top priority. Dad and Stepmom were still in Florida and we had just stayed with them in their Florida home; now we were installed in their Montreal home.

Compared to much of the city, we lived like kings. We didn't have to go to a shelter; we didn't have to camp out with friends or, if we'd been one of the lucky ones to have power most of the time, to have people sleeping all over our floors.

We were, however, without phone service, as Dad had cancelled it for the winter and I didn't think we'd be there long enough to make it worthwhile to reconnect. (I didn't have my cell phone at the time either.) Likewise cable TV but I doubt that was functional anyway. Montreal's most important English language radio station sustained damage to its broadcasting tower and was out - for months. It took over the frequency of another (failing) station until the following summer, when its tower was rebuilt.

There's also the matter of the drinking water. Warnings were issued to boil the water but it didn't come out until afterwards, how close the city came to a total breakdown of the water supply.

We passed the time playing board games and walking to the nearby mall, which was being used as a shelter. A stage was set up with a tv playing children's videos, and the floors were covered with tiny sleeping bags. Some of the fast food outlets were open too. I kept in touch with family and friends on the pay phones there, and compulsively called my answering machine from a phone in the apartment lobby, willing it to pick up (indicating that we had power).

It finally did on Sunday night but we decided to stay put and return home Monday. It took another month for all the homes in the region to get their power back.

We didn't sustain any significant property damage; we did have to discard the contents of our freezer. But as "natural disasters" go, this wasn't on the same scale as a hurricane, flood or tornado. There was little or no looting but there was price gouging for the few electric generators available. The radio stations kept a running tally of who was charging a fair price and who wasn't.

T-shirts abounded; the experience entered the cultural mythology of Montreal without the standard waiting period. Books have been written; photographs indelibly etched in memory.

And when you drive on any highway leading in any direction outside of the city, the sight of broken tree limbs remains. Nobody cleans up the countryside and we'll have this concrete reminder of the experience for many years to come.

Want to surf the entries in ring form? Go here and choose "Ring mode" for any one journal to begin.

The Other Participating Journals:

And If I Die Before I Wake
Funny The World
Hell Is Other People
Nova Notes
On My Lap & From My Mind
Quiet Moments

Back to Inertia