WINTERPORT – Like other residents on the Monroe Road, Francis and Leona Porter refused to leave their home when the ice storm of ’98 threatened their health, safety and collective peace of mind.
They didn’t leave, though their only source of heat was a carbon monoxide-producing gas grill. They didn’t leave when their garage collapsed from the ice packed on top. They didn’t leave, even though she is on dialysis and he needs regular vapor treatments for emphysema.
“They say Mainers are stubborn,” Francis said simply.
But Saturday, Jan. 17, after a spirit-draining 11-day siege, power came to the Monroe Road like oxygen to a drowning man.
While residents celebrated with the expected long-missed pleasures – television, a hot meal – thoughts turned to the Porters, who the neighbors all thought were the hardest hit by the storm.
“They’re old people,” said Ricky Deighan, choking with emotion. “They didn’t even think about it.” Dieghan was referring to a popular and perhaps unfair target of people’s ire: the power company. Long before the storm, the Porters were placed on a Central Maine Power Co. emergency list, to be looked to first in the event of outage.
That didn’t happen. The Porters called CMP only to get answering machines and watched jealously as the power on surrounding streets returned.
CMP spokesman Mark Ishkanian said Sunday, Jan. 18, that power would have been restored first to those on the list during a “more normal” outage, but that the force of this year’s storm made the company initially focus on repairing its major distribution lines.
Of course, the Porters could have gone to a shelter. But they feared freezing pipes and the loss of their animals: 12 birds and a black chow named Bear.
“We all fought with them,” said Suzanne Beale, their daughter, who lives in a house across the street. “We begged them to go.” The Porters decided to stay in the familiar world of their home and neighbors. That meant taking the good with the bad.
There were small miracles of private charity. On Friday, Jan. 16, Selectman Roger Doyon gave the Porters his generator. Dallas Harriman, who owns a construction business up the road, let Francis use his garage for vapor treatments.
There were also inexplicable acts of selfishness and cruelty. Three cats and a dog left behind in a nearby trailer had to be rescued by the Fire Department when their owner skipped town. Someone stole a phone generator from the North Road, temporarily cutting off Winterport residents’ main lifeline to the outside world.
By Jan. 18, however, things looked to be returning to normal. Leona returned Saturday, Jan. 17, from her one night at a hotel near Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. She only went there on doctor’s orders when she reported heart trouble Friday.
The Harrimans had ham and potatoes, their first real meal in over a week.
And Beale got her electric bill.
“What happens if we don’t pay?” she said with a note of devilishness. “Are they going to turn our power off?”