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Trust is continuing legacy of ice storm

BY GEORGE PIPER AND SUSAN | MONTREAL | January 21, 1999

MONTREAL (Jan. 21, 1999) -- When an ice storm knocked out power for

residents of southeastern Canada and the U.S. Northeast in January 1998,

people around Montreal turned to an unusual resource: each other.

Homeowners with wood burning stoves opened their doors to neighbors without

heat; neighbors shopped for people homebound by snow and ice; concerned

citizens checked darkened houses to see if people were okay.

Those things are uncommon in metropolitan areas, said Moira Barclay-Fernie,

clerk of the Presbytery of Montreal for the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Yet, when times got tough, people went out of their way to help others

without worrying about dangers of having strangers in the home or the

inconveniences of aiding others.

"There was a sense of trust that was not normally there, and that trust has

developed and lasted," she said.

Similar stories originate from Ontario, Maine and New York, where the storm

paralyzed much of the area for nearly a month. A year later, rescue workers

and survivors reflect back on their experiences, and on how much the storm

still influences their lives.

Survivors remember when branches and wires were laden with ice, 30,000

power poles tumbled, and 4,656 miles of cable came down.

More than four million people were affected and during the ice storm more

than half of Quebec's population lost power at least once. Three weeks

after the storm 150,000 people in the U.S. and 900,000 in Canada were still

without power. Thirty-five people in Canada, and nine in the U.S. died.

The expected insurance payout in Canada is $3 billion, the largest in that

country's history. In New England some 18 million acres of forest were

damaged.

During the ice storm and the weeks after, Barclay-Fernie's office was used

a center for coordinating the area Presbyterian churches' relief efforts,

and cooperating with other faith-based groups such as the Roman Catholic

Church, the local United and Anglican churches.

In Montreal, the churches enjoy a good ecumenical relationship, said

Barclay-Fernie. Most church leaders meet regularly and strengthen the

network, which she said helps when people rely on churches during a crisis.

"I find it very difficult to look back," she said, remembering that anxious

time. "I went home in the dark and dreaded going in to work again in the

dark."

But, she said, positive things also came from that frightening month. "I

was always impressed by people's tolerance, and it was extremely touching

how people continually helped."

Independence gave way to trust, explained Barclay-Fernie. Some byproducts

of that experience are that neighborliness has gone up a few notches and

people know each other better.

"People really did have faith in other people," she said. "Maybe it's

around other times and we don't notice it."

Sue Pateneaude, executive director of the Rural Community Action Ministry

(RCAM) in Leeds, Maine, had similar experiences.

RCAM covers a small area in rural Maine -- the organization is 30 years old

and serves vulnerable populations like elderly and disabled people. It is a

small non-profit group with only three or four staff people, but many

volunteers help out.

During the storm RCAM staff and volunteers didn't just stay in their office

and wait for people to call them for help. In fact, they couldn't have

because they had no phones and no heat. So they went from house to house to

see who needed help.

"We went and knocked on doors," said Pateneaude.

They did everything from helping people get water to starting up furnaces.

She said that was one of the peculiarities of the storm in rural

Maine was that you could have no power, yet be living only 100 yards from

someone who had not been affected.

"We found a mother and a daughter huddled around a kerosene heater, which

is not really safe," said Pateneaude. The RCAM team knew that the neighbor

had electricity so they arranged a string of extension cords that were used

for several days until power and heat were restored.

"It was kind of an uplifting experience in a strange way -- to know that

you're saving someone's life," she said. Many faith-based and government

organizations provided assistance and hundreds of volunteer work crews have

continued to be active for long after the storm.

In New York, the Disaster Assessment and Recovery Team (DART), an

interfaith disaster recovery group worked throughout the past year to

provide assistance for people that were not covered by federal or state

aid.

In Montreal, Quebec Salvation Army workers sheltered more than 500 people,

provided disaster relief to thousands of people and served 5,000 meals

daily, said Bryan Hayward, a Captain in the Salvation Army in that city.

Hayward and his family live in the South Shore of Montreal in Greenfield

Park -- an area particularly hard hit by the storm.

"We all like to forget something like that," he said admitting that at the

time he didn't realize that he was being emotionally affected by the

storm's onslaught. "It really jumps you from behind."

His family was without electricity for nine days. But, like other relief

workers, Hayward says the survivors' spirit is what he remembers best about

last January.

At one point the South Shore Corps of the Salvation Army in St. Hubert lost

its power while it had 40 people staying there -- but 15 people still chose

to stay overnight. They crowded into the smallest room in the building, lit

candles, and someone stayed awake all night to ensure the candles didn't

set the place on fire. With a combination of candle heat and body heat,

they stayed warm for two nights.

On he second night, at 2:30 a.m., a man from the neighboring province,

Ontario, brought in a generator and a baseboard heater. You should have

seen the joyful faces," said Hayward.

Barclay-Fernie says that she and many other Montrealers fear that a

similar storm could occur this winter.

"It took tremendous tolls on them," she said of some of the parishioners in

the local Presbyterian churches. And, she says, many members continue to

turn to their pastors for guidance about the post-storm anxieties.

"We learned a lot from it," she said, noting that residents stocked up on

items in case Mother Nature repeats itself with another icy blast.

In Maine, Pateneaude said that RCAM has been disaster planning with the

Andrascoggin United Way and with the local bureau of civil emergency

preparedness.

"Just in case it happens again," she added.


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Winter storms could spell doom for some churches

Bitter cold forecast for Northeast

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