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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

January 8, 1998

I’m going to begin this edition of the Tuesday Timeline by letting you all in on something.  This edition of the Timeline will be focusing on an event that I lived through, and what I learned as a result of going through it.  Looking through all of the events that have taken place on January 8, there’s one that actually had an impact on me personally, so I decided to go with that rather than the standard pop culture references.  I’ll be returning to the normal format of the Tuesday Timeline next week though.  So, consider this a reprieve.

Now that I have that out of the way, we can continue.

So, should I talk about celebrity birthdays for January 8?  Why not, right?

Blowing out candles on their cakes today are Larry Storch, Ron Moody, Hanae Mori, Saeed Jaffrey, Charles Osgood, Dame Shirley Bassey, Bob Eubanks, Carolina Herrera, Stephen Hawking, Yvette Mimieux, Charles Murray, Terry Brooks, Kathleen Noone, Jeannie Lewis, Don Bendell, David Bowie, Terry Sylvester (The Hollies), Laurie Walters, Gillies MacKinnon, John McTiernan, Bruce Sutter, Mike Reno (Loverboy), David Lang, Chris Marion (Little River Band), Ron Sexsmith, Michelle Forbes, Maria Patillo, Willie Anderson, R. Kelly, Jeff Abercrombie (fuel), Ami Dolenz, Rachel Friend, Jason Giambi, Sean McKeever, Mike Cameron, Sean Paul, DJ Clue, Josh Meyers, Carl Pavano, Amber Benson, Ron Pederson, Sarah Polley, Rachel Nichols, Jeff Francis, Gaby Hoffmann, Allison Harvard, and Noah Cyrus.

Holy heck, have a lot of celebrities been born on January 8...and those are just the ones who are still ALIVE!

Now let`s take a look at what happened around the world on this day in history, beginning with...

307 – Emperor Jin Huidi, of the Chinese Jin Dynasty succumbs to poison, and is succeeded by his son, Jin Huaidi

871 – Alfred the Great leads a West Saxon army to repel an invasion by Danelaw Vikings

1297 – Francois Grimaldi disguises himself as a monk to lead a group of his men in the mission to capture the fortress protecting the Rock of Monaco

1499 – Louis the XII of France marries Anne of Brittany

1734 – The premiere performance of Handel`s Ariodante is performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

1780 – 80,000 are killed as a massive 7.7 earthquake destroys the city of Tabriz, Iran

1790 – George Washington delivers the very first State of the Union address in New York City

1815 – Andrew Jackson leads American forces in victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans

1835 – In what would be the only time this would happen in American history, the national debt is $0 on this date (how times change!)

1863 – The Second Battle of Springfield takes place during the American Civil War

1867 – African American men are granted the right to vote in Washington D.C.

1877 – Crazy Horse and his warriors fight their last battle against the United States Cavalry at Wolf Mountain

1889 – U.S. Patent #395,791 is issued to Herman Hollerith for his invention – the punched card calculator

1906 – A landslide in Haverstraw, New York kills 20 people

1912 – The African National Congress is founded

1918 – President Woodrow Wilson announces his “Fourteen Points” for the aftermath of World War II

1926 – Comedian Soupy Sales is born in Franklinton, North Carolina

1935 – Singer/Actor Elvis Aron Presley is born in Tupelo, Mississippi

1940 – Britain introduces food rationing during World War II

1962 – The Harmelan train disaster kills 93 in the Netherlands

1963 – Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is displayed in the United States for the very first time, at the Washington D.C. Gallery of Art

1964 – President Lyndon B. Johnson declares a “War on Poverty”

1973 – Soviet space mission Luna 21 is launched

1975 – Ella T. Grasso becomes Governor of Connecticut, the first woman to serve as Governor in the United States other than succeeding her husband

1979 – Oil tanker Betelgeuse explodes in Bantry Bay, Ireland, in what is known as the “Whiddy Island Disaster”

1981 – A French farmer reports a UFO sighting in Trans-en-Provence, the “most completely and carefully documented sighting of all time”

1982 – AT&T splits into twenty-two different subdivisions

1994 – Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov leaves for Mir space station, eventually staying up there for a record 437 days

2002 – President George W. Bush signs the “No Child Left Behind” Act on the same day that Wendy’s restaurant chain founder Dave Thomas passes away at the age of 69

2004 – The RMS Queen Mary 2 – the largest passenger ship ever built – is christened by Queen Elizabeth II

2007 – Canadian born actress Yvonne de Carlo passes away in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 84

2011 – Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is shot outside of a Safeway grocery store leaving Giffords and 13 others wounded, and 6 dead

Those are just a few of the events that have taken place worldwide on January 8.  And one thing that I have noticed about January 8 was that a lot of both natural and man-made disasters took place on this date. 

And, as it so happens, today’s look back through time deals with a natural that I ended up living through.

The story begins on January 8, 1998.

Now, I would imagine that on this date fifteen years ago, many of you were experiencing a rather normal day filled with monotonous tasks like going to work, picking up a coffee at the local coffee shop, and deciding on whether you were going to have spaghetti or lasagna for dinner.

For millions of people in Southeastern Ontario, Quebec, Upstate New York, parts of Maine, and even the Maritime provinces in Canada, January 8 was the beginning of a lengthy struggle without many of the things that we often take for granted.

January 1998 started off with a rather weird vibe, if I recall.  For whatever reason, we ended up getting a ton of snow and freezing rain during the first week of 1998.  I mean, I have grown up experiencing harsh Canadian winters my entire life, so this was nothing uncommon, but there was something eerie about it all.  I think that it all began roughly around the 5th or 6th of January, when we had three non-stop days of really nasty weather.  Buses were cancelled on the second day back after Christmas break, and on January 7, it appeared as though things were beginning to get back to normal after a minor disruption of freezing rain and ice pellets.

Little did we all know that it would be the calm before the storm.

In the early morning hours of January 8, my mom woke me up at around 7:00 in the morning to inform me that school had been cancelled for the day.  This news shocked even me, as I have never experienced a day in which school was outright cancelled because of lousy weather.  In my school district, barring a hurricane, a tornado, or an earthquake, schools usually stayed open.  Bus service to the schools was closed, due to the unfavourable road conditions, but if we walked to school, we were more or less expected to attend.

(And lucky me, being in eleventh grade at the time and living right next door to my school, I had to go to school on EVERY FLIPPIN’ SNOW DAY.)

But for every school in town to shut their doors because of a freezing rain storm?  This was unprecedented.  This was no ordinary storm.

And then the lights went out...and stayed out for several days.

This was what Ice Storm ’98 did.  The weight of the ice that formed due to the system of freezing rain pouring down over my area caused train tracks to snap apart, closed down major highways, and destroyed thousands of trees, which caused them to fall on top of power lines.  The weight of the ice caused nearly one thousand pylons to collapse, knocking out power to over four MILLION customers. 

The hardest hit areas of the storm were Upstate New York, Western New Brunswick, Southern Quebec, and Eastern Ontario.

Guess who lives in Eastern Ontario?  Yep.  Me.

I would say that the first day that the lights went out on January 8 was the hardest one to get through.  On one hand, the scenery outside looked absolutely stunning.  The ice twinkled on the tress that remained standing following the ice storm’s major punch, and if one had a camera available it would have made a fantastic image for a holiday card.  But knowing that millions of people were without food, heat, or in some cases, water, tarnished the possible beauty that was left behind.

My family ended up still having our water, but without any electricity or heat, and not having any information on when power was going to be restored, we knew that we had to go somewhere where there was at least a heat source.

So, the night of January 8, our home away from home became my maternal grandfather’s house.  Grandpa had a gas powered stove, and his home was entirely heated with a gas furnace, so we stayed there so that we could keep warm.

The next couple of days were incredibly hard to get through.  I had the foresight to bring along a lot of books to read, a binder filled with loose leaf paper so I could do some writing by candlelight (yes, at age 16, I was writing), and my Walkman filled with cassette tapes of my favourite music.

(Yes, Virginia, we once lived in a world where iPods did not exist...and apparently I still lived in a world before CD’s... J )

Still, the experience wasn’t the most positive one at first.  For one, we had to go out and brave the elements to pick up some canned foods from A&P (the only supermarket that stayed open during the first couple of days of the ice storm thanks to a back-up generator), and let’s just say that other people had the same idea.  Needless to say, we ended up with whatever we could get our hands on.

On top of all that, because my dad worked for a major railroad at the time of the Ice Storm, I very rarely saw him during the time we stayed with Grandpa because he was at work trying to repair the signals and train tracks that were destroyed from the aftermath of the storm to reopen the rail system as soon as possible.

And, on a purely superficial note (which I’m not exactly proud of), I kept complaining about the lack of lights, and how boring it was at Grandpa’s, and this caused my grandfather to get incredibly crusty and surly with me.  I mean, granted, my grandfather was always naturally grouchy to begin with (at least I thought so), but he was especially cranky.  But then, I suppose we all were.  I mean, the battery powered radio was tuned into CFJR where they were updating people on where they could purchase generators and which gas stations were open, and updated information on when power would be restored.  And, that was really our only link to the outside world at the time.  That was a really unsettling feeling to have.

It actually wasn’t until January 10 that things started to improve.  That was the day that my uncle, aunt, and their two boys came to stay with Grandpa as well.  That helped me cope better, as my cousins were eleven and nine at the time.  It made it easier having people close to my age experiencing this with me.  And when my cousins and I got together, we had a blast.  We played board games like Yahtzee, and we did Mad Libs, and it was a lot of fun.  Made the time pass by a lot quicker for sure.

And we also ended up having lights during that whole time.  My dad figured out a way to power up a floor lamp by plugging it into a charged up car battery.  Sure, it only managed to last four hours at the most, but it sort of helped bring back a little bit of normalcy.

Finally, by January 12, some neighbourhoods in my hometown were beginning to see power restoration, which made every one of us squeal in relief.  For my town, the nightmare was beginning to end.  My family was incredibly lucky in that my neighbourhood was one of the first to get power back (because I lived a block away from the city hospital at the time, it was put on the high priority list), and on January 13, we returned back home. 

But as I said, my family were some of the lucky ones.  The ice storm was so destructive that many places issued a state of emergency, and the disaster lead to the largest deployment of military personnel since the Korean War in Canadian history.

The damage caused by the storm caused entire power grids to be reconstructed in order to restore power to the people most affected by the storm system.  My area was lucky, as the power was 80% restored ten days after the initial storm began.  But some places in Quebec did not get power back for weeks...some places were left in the dark well into February 1998!

Ice Storm ’98 devastated Quebec’s maple syrup industry (the storm killed thousands of trees in maple syrup farms and fruit orchards all across the province), and in total, twenty-five people lost their lives in the storm from various causes including hypothermia, accidents, and fires sparked by gas explosions and unattended candles.

It is estimated that the storm caused $2 billion dollars in damage.

January 8, 1998 was a day that I will never forget as long as I live.  It was probably one of the most frustrating and scary times that I have ever gone through.

At the same time, it was probably one of the events that helped me grow into a better person, and in the progress, it may have even saved my life.

The month prior to the ice storm was a really, really bad one.  December 1997 was a rough month, and I felt as though I had hit rock bottom.  Granted, I was 16, and quite the emo kid because of what I was going through, but it still was painful enough for me to contemplate giving up on life.  I was that depressed as a teen.

But then the ice storm hit, and going through that experience helped make me a stronger person.  If I could survive being trapped in a frozen prison without electricity for five days, then I could get through anything.  In a way, the disaster helped give me a much-needed boost of self-esteem...even if at the time I couldn’t see it.

The aftermath of the storm?  Well, when school resumed, our winter exams were cancelled indefinitely (good thing too as I was in the process of nearly flunking math class), and life eventually went back to normal.  But it took a few days for the radio station to get back to normal, and CKWS-TV in Kingston was knocked off the air for almost a month, as their transmission tower was completely destroyed in the storm.

For those of us who lived through Ice Storm ’98, we’ll never forget it.  I still can’t believe that it has been fifteen years since the storm hit, as I remember it like it happened yesterday.  But, I’m sure that all of us who lived through it will attest to the fact that it did bring communities a little bit closer, and made all of us a little bit stronger as a result.

And, that’s what happened in my neck of the woods on January 8, 1998.

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