Living through the March 1991 ice storm where neighbors became family

Local News

Thirty years ago, over an inch of freezing rain fell across the region, cutting power to hundreds of thousands. The March 1991 ice storm was memorable for so many throughout Upstate New York and the Finger Lakes. 

Dave Barrett was just getting ready for work on Monday. “Sheree comes in and start’s shaking me and goes ‘All the trees are cracking out back!’ And I go, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll be okay’,” said Dave. 

Dave and Sheree Barrett have lived in Gates for 36 years and never saw a storm like this. “All I remember is stone quiet, and ice cover everywhere, and all the trees were just pushed down,” said Dave. The outages at its peak impacted over 300,000 people. The Barrett’s were lucky, getting their power back in 48 hours. They did what they could and hooked up the neighbors with as much power as possible. 

“I had three sump pumps running, and still didn’t have a trip, so I said ‘I tell you what let me see if I can hook your furnace up too’ so I hooked the furnace up, still didn’t blow,” said Dave. 

CT Oakes, a Vietnam veteran in Livingston County during the ice storm, said it was the sound of trees breaking that reminded him of a war zone. “When stuff starts exploding around you, you actually react to it!” said Oakes. He had a wood stove but no food and no power for 17 days. Neighbors became family. 

“The neighbors found out that we were still able to cook, slabs of salmon, steaks, nobody brought us hot dogs or hamburgers,” said Oakes. Supplying each other food and shelter from the storm was how people got through the ice storm. 

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