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National Grid using my backyard as a fix it shop. Photo: David Sommerstein.
National Grid using my backyard as a fix it shop. Photo: David Sommerstein.

Power crews were prepared for an Ice Storm '98 repeat

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While many remain without power, and some people have sought shelters, this storm wasn't as devastating as the Ice Storm of 1998. But residents - and the power companies - were preparing as if it could have been.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

The pole saw in action. Photo: David Sommerstein.
The pole saw in action. Photo: David Sommerstein.
Saturday afternoon in the Price Chopper parking lot. Jeannine Lanning is already hacking away at half an inch of ice.

LANNING: Clearing the ice off my van, and it doesn’t want to come off.

People were stocking up on essentials and preparing to hunker down.

BORTNICK: Couple of tanks of gas and a bunch of groceries. Who knows how bad it’s going to be? We don’t know so…

Like so many people in St. Lawrence County, Chip Bortnick of Canton lived through the Ice Storm 16 years ago that paralyzed the region for three weeks. He has a generator now. And he remembers.

BORTNICK: We were out for 8 days, so hopefully it’s not the ice storm, but it looks very similar. It hasn’t gotten that bad yet, but if it rains like this for another day, it could. People who survived the ice storm are getting ready for it. And I am.

Power companies and state and local officials remember, too. New York declared a state of emergency for the entire northern North Country even before the storm really hit Saturday afternoon. National Grid and NYSEG sent almost 2,000 crews from all over the state in advance.

Me? I wasn’t here for the ice storm. My backup plan? Put on the propane heater in the basement to keep the pipes from freezing and go to the neighbors’.

We wake up with no electricity, and line crews in our driveway.

REED: Just a limb falling.

David: Falling on the power line. Is this where the problem is?

REED: Sure is. Broke back farther. This is all hanging on it…

Sean Reed cuts trees for Asplundh, one of the many contractors the power companies hire to keep the lines clear.

REED: There’s four line crews working on it right now, putting pickles and poles in at cross-arms. “Pickels?” Yeah, the have a connector that hooks the two in and puts the broken power line together.

One guy uses a long pole saw, must be 25 feet tall, with a razor sharp saw to slice through tree limbs slumping over the power line.

REED: Safer to do it with that than to cut it with a chain saw. You could probably do more damage. And if we’re climbing trees covered in ice, it makes it a lot safer for us. So in this particular case, yeah, this is the safest way to do it.

Reed had just started his career during the Ice Storm of 1998. He says this doesn’t compare, but it could have.

REED: I think we dodged a bullet with the sleet we got last night instead of the rain. We got quite a bit of sleet at least where I live in Colton. It doesn’t stick to the trees like the rain or wet heavy snow. That would have stuck to the ice already on the trees. And we definitely would have been in trouble.

National Grid had to put chains on one of its trucks and roll into our backyard to reach one of the severed lines.

UNIDENTIFIED: We’re going to go up, re-tie the primary back end and put the primary up between these two poles where the trees came down and busted it up with the ice on them.

That National Grid worker didn’t want to give his name because the company doesn’t want him to. They did restore power after 5 hours working in our neighborhood.

But then the power went back out again last night.

Sean Reed says these 1600 line workers will be doing much of what they did at my house again and again until power’s restored.

REED: Yup, we’ve got 3 or 4 that way towards 56. And then there’ll be another road with the same problem.

Ice storms – little or big – make you appreciate how much it takes to keep our homes alight and warm, all across the forested North Country.

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