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How the Ice Storm of '98 brought Mainers together

Crisis often tests the toughness of a community. It's a test Mainers passed with flying colors.

AUBURN (NEWS CENTER Maine) - Two areas hit hardest by the Ice Storm were Bridgton and Lewiston-Auburn.

In one community it shut down a popular business at its busiest time of the year. In another it brought neighbors together like never before because of one man who took the phrase neighbor helping neighbor, to heart.

“Every few minutes a big branch would break and it would sound like a shotgun, a big boom, just continuing all day long”, said Auburn resident Bruce Turmenne.

Turmenne and his wife Anita have lived through plenty of winter storms. But never have they seen anything quite like Ice Storm.

“The mood was very somber, no lights anywhere. It was still drizzling on everything”, said Bruce.

Thanks a generator downstairs, they weren't without power or heat for long. But it's what Bruce Turmenne did next that people in this neighborhood will be forever grateful.

“It occurred to me, it's still dark everywhere and we are in the light. So I said I got to help my neighbors because I still have two more outlets on the generator”, he said.

In an extraordinary act of selflessness, Bruce brought hundreds of yards of wires and strung them up and across the street, feeding power from that generator to his neighbors. He would do two at a time.

“We would switch them every two hours. I would get up in the night and every two hours I'd switch them so they could have heat anyway, every two hours”, he said.

To help as many neighbors as he could Bruce would sleep in two hour shifts for nearly a week.

“It was tiring. I'd have to set my alarm at 12 and 2 and 4 and 6, all day long. That's all I did”, he said.

Anita says it was just like her husband to do something like that.

“We would have felt really guilty having power here where our neighbors were not so blessed”, she said.

20-years later Dick Dubois still lives in the same home across the street and a few doors down from the Turmennes.

“There were cords all over the street, it was kind of silly to look at, but it worked it worked for all of us”, he said.

Dubois says he wasn't surprised at all when Bruce came by offering to help.

“I took it for granted honestly, he's that kind of a guy so it was pretty good”, Dubois said.

In the end the Turmennes took a difficult situation and turned it into something positive, by epitomizing the phrase “Neighbor Helping Neighbor”

“It brought us closer. It gave us a feeling of security if you will. That together we can get through this together, we can help one another and if anyone's in need we're there”, said Bruce.

While those neighbors in Auburn were concerned about the basics, heat and lights, the stakes were much higher in Bridgton for Chet Homer

“It was a war zone”, Homer said.

Four years in as owner of Shawnee Peak, the season was off to a nice start. He had a good supply of early snow. Then it hit.

“It's not something you'd ever want to wish on anyone. It was very challenging”, he said.

Trees were strewn across the roadways leading to and from the mountain.

“You could not drive through”, Homer said.

The slopes were covered with thick sheets of ice and the lodge and mountain were without power for more than a week.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought that something like that would happen. I never thought would have a power outage for 10 days”, Homer said.

It could not have come at worst time, right in the middle of the ski season, before the long Martin Luther King Holiday weekend.

“Shut down, dead in the water, for five or six days”, he said.

Like the neighbors in Auburn, the staff rallied around each other. Other ski areas even pitched in to help.

“If you need an extra groomer to help open a trail, we have a spare lift mechanic, everyone is very supportive trying to help us”, Homer said.

Chet Homer made it through the most trying time of his business career. Remarkably the season was not a total loss.

“February vacation week was good and we skied in to late March and we were able to recover a lot of the business”

One thing he would do differently is keep his lifts running, slowly, overnight, to prevent ice from building up. Other than that he's says when Mother Nature rears her ugly head, like she did during the Ice Storm of 1998, you're at her mercy.

“There's not much you can do to prepare for that. You just want to be safe”, he said.