Memories of The Great Ice Storm of 1998, vol. II

Jan. 21—Like many Northern New York residents, The Great Ice Storm of 1998 gave Andrew W. Bazinet a rude awakening.

"I was woken at 5 o'clock in the morning," Mr. Bazinet recalled. "I hear the snap, crackle, pop and I know the sound of breaking trees. I was like, 'This ain't going to be good.'"

Mr. Bazinet, a native of Clayton and now a Rochester resident, was working at Clarkson University, Potsdam, as a construction engineer. He was also a graduate student at the university and at the time property manager of the Tau Epsilon Phi Fraternity/Lambda Phi Epsilon Alumni Association.

He's one of several readers of the Watertown Daily Times who responded to requests to share their memories of The Great Ice Storm of 1998 on its 25th anniversary. Part 1 was published Jan. 14.

"To me, it's a fascinating story, like, 'How did that even happen?'" said Mr. Bazinet, who recalled his experiences in a phone interview.

He was living on Market Street in Potsdam at the time of the storm. At first, his power went out before coming back on. But that was short-lived.

"I had my alarm clock set and it turned on the radio," Mr. Bazinet said. "But when the radio came on, it was all static. I go over to it and I'm trying to adjust to see if I can pick up any stations. The only two that I could get a signal from were Canadian stations, but they were broadcasting in French. That was the moment I was like, 'Hmm. I wonder what's really going on.'"

He got an answer when he looked outside.

"That's when I was like, 'Oh! Well, maybe there's a bigger problem here.'"

A tree had fallen on his truck. It took him over two hours to free it. He then he drove to campus, about a mile from his home.

"I barely got there because of all the downed trees and the power lines and everything," Mr. Bazinet said. "I got to my office and there was nobody there. I realized 'people can't get here' probably is the issue."

He drove around campus to assess the situation. He was familiar with buildings that were the site of research projects, but he noticed there were no cars in those parking lots.

But he did see vehicles in the parking lots of dorms.

"Then it dawned on me, that there are students here," Mr. Bazinet recalled. "Most of them were from out of the country that didn't go home for break. I realized we had a situation."

He drove back to his office, at which time other workers showed up with adventurous tales of dodging down trees and poles on the way in. Meanwhile, the weather was getting worse.

"We took a step back and started thinking this was a pretty significant event and we have to take care of some students," Mr. Bazinet said. "Then we realized if the power is out and it's going to be a long haul, we've got to also take care of ourselves and the community."

Mr. Bazinet and other officials contacted the university's administration. It was agreed a shelter needed to be opened, but there was no power source for it.

"One of the electricians for the university shows up," Mr. Bazinet said. "He said, 'Geez, you know I think there's a generator up in the Cheel building that we might be able to utilize.'" They were able to do that.

He communicated with Niagara Mohawk representatives as well as police and fire officials.

"Niagara Mohawk said they were getting assistance from outside the area to help restore services in the area, and didn't have a place for them," Mr. Bazinet said. "The hotels and everything were closed. We said we'll open up a shelter just for utility crews. It was like a gym with showers and everything."

A staging area for equipment such as arriving generators and poles was also set up on campus.

But campus workers had to address the feeding of utility workers and emergency shelter guests.

"We did have some food," Mr. Bazinet said. "There were some hockey games scheduled within the next week or two. They figured we had enough food for about a week to accommodate the people we were taking care of."

Eventually some food deliveries resumed in order to keep the shelters open and the utilities crews fed, he recalled. "My feeling was that it was a miracle that there was sufficient supplies on hand, especially during the break and unexpected extended power outage."

The only working phone line, Mr. Bazinet said, was coming into his office.

"The phones only worked part time," he said. "When they did work, you had to have quick conversations. Surprisingly, with the lack of communication, we were able to kind of orchestrate pulling off establishing shelters and taking care of not only students and the community, but also the utility workers coming in."

He also recalled talking to Walmart representatives. "They were sending up trucks full of cots, blankets and pillows," Mr. Bazinet said. "Communities that were living their normal lives south of Watertown were bringing up supplies and everything to help out."

a message via radio

Mr. Bazinet was able to take some time off to help his parents, Harry & Patricia Bazinet, in Clayton. He couldn't reach them by phone.

"I was able to contact my sister via phone, who was living in Antwerp at the time," Mr. Bazinet said. "She wasn't able to get ahold of our parents either."

But his sister, he said, reached out to a Watertown radio station, which was relaying messages to listeners.

"She asked if they could put out a message to Harry and Patricia that their son is coming with a generator," Mr. Bazinet said. He "left work for a while" and picked up the generator at a St. Lawrence County Sears outlet. It took him about five hours to drive from Potsdam to Clayton.

"I remember pulling in, seeing my dad and telling him, "I got a generator for you,'" Mr. Bazinet said. "The look on my dad's face, with tears running down."

Neighbors had informed his father about the radio message. "But he didn't believe it," Mr. Bazinet said.

Mr. Bazinet now works in the communications industry as an engineer with Crown Castle. Looking back, he's amazed that a patchwork communications system was made to work during the ice storm.

He recommends the book, "The Grid and the Village: Losing Electricity, Finding Community, Surviving Disaster," by Clarkson University professor Stephen Doheny-Farina. His stories in the book, published in 2001 by Yale University Press, examine the impact of electronic communications on community, illuminating the relationship between electronic and human connections and between networks and neighborhoods, and exploring why and how media portrayals of disasters can distort authentic experience. Later, a documentary was released based in part on the book.

The storm, Mr. Bazinet said, taught him how vulnerable the power grid can be.

"When you have these weather events, you're kind of on your own. So what's your backup plan?" he said. "When we build cell tower sites and things, typically there's a generator, backup services, in regards to that project."

And at home, Mr. Bazinet has a generator.

Fort Drum a key source

—David P. Robling, a lodge trustee for Bethany Masonic Lodge No. 821 in Black River, recalled that support from Fort Drum provided military generators to several villages in the north country.

"In Black River, we received a 50-K generator for first responders and as shelter support," Mr. Robling wrote. "The generator was connected to Bethany Masonic Lodge and power was fed to ambulance squad and fire station. Red Cross supplied cots and blankets for use in dining room to support people. The lodge had heat and a kitchen to cook meals until power was restored."

'less light and hubbub'

—Sarah Baldwin, Clayton, sent a photograph along with her memories of the storm.

"The photo from 1.10.98 shows our 2 1/2 year old (Jacob Baldwin) having his bath in the kitchen sink. Without power and being on a well, my husband had to go down our (Clayton) backyard (with a hard hat on as it was full of icy trees) to the creek to bring up buckets of water. We heated it on the wood stove and then gave the baths in that sink with lovely daylight coming in the window. The almost-one-year-old needed that extra baby support you can see in the other sink when it was his turn.

Although there was so much work involved with water, heat and cooking, we did come to appreciate the quiet that seemed so eerie at first, and the calmer electronics-free lifestyle, especially with the kids. They certainly fell asleep better at night with less light and hubbub in the evening. A good lesson learned.

On Jan. 12, my husband had to return to work and after one day being on my own with the two toddlers, I decamped to Syracuse to stay with family. The transition on Route 81 going south when the trees suddenly were not weighed down by ice was dramatic & heartening.

It was great to be with family and in a normally heated house with a fully functioning kitchen and bathrooms! This was right near the fire station in East Syracuse and the family was used to the fire siren going off in the middle of the night. Fortunately it didn't wake my boys up either, but I had trouble going back to sleep — finding it ironic that we'd escaped from quiet into such intrusive noise.

Seeing donation boxes in the grocery store for 'Our neighbors up North in need' did make us feel the littlest bit like refugees. And we were glad to get back home after my husband got a generator. It didn't make everything fully functioning, but life could go on that way until the power came back."

Memories of the Great Ice Storm of 1998 will conclude next week with the recollections of David J. Peters, former commander of the Watertown state police zone.