In their words: A collection of memories shared by our readers - Portland Press Herald

2023-01-10 00:33:53 By : Ms. Sunny Wang

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Readers responded by the dozens with their memories of Maine's ice storm. Here are a few. 15 U Network Rack

In their words: A collection of memories shared by our readers  - Portland Press Herald

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South Portland resident Rudy Ordway hauls and cuts tree limbs that covered his backyard to curbside to allow city crews to haul the limbs away from his State Avenue on Jan. 27, 1998. John Patriquin/Press Herald

I was grateful for city water and sewerage; we had water and the bathroom. A kerosene heater kept us acceptably warmish; there is still one in the cellar just in case. The barbeque grill and camping stove provided hot food. We slept in our sleeping bags in the living room. The kids were fine with missing school. I never have understood how people lost all their food; the outdoors was a giant freezer! And, if it weren’t so dangerous and annoying, the world was beautiful with the sun shining on the glazed world for days.

I grew up in Yarmouth and came home for Christmas break during my junior year at Ithaca College. My roommate, who was Dutch, left the country for the month and let me take his leased 1998 GMC Jimmy. The ice storm was like nothing any of us had seen before and that Jimmy took us everywhere.

We looked out at the mainland from Cousin’s Island and witnessed fireworks as the transformers were exploding. It was easily one every second. We crawled to the cell towers and any place that posed a challenge.

We put 1,500 miles on that leased car, half of which was due to the exorbitant amount of reverse donuts that we performed in the parking lot behind the high school. It was awesome! When my roommate learned of the excessive mileage on his vehicle, he just asked me if I had a good time. We did. Although our house was without power for seven days.

Connie Hoffman, foreground, and Rita Darling, both of Fairfield, try to rest at the emergency shelter at the Colby College Fieldhouse January 9, 1998 during the ice storm. David Leaming/Kennebec Journal

I mostly remember coming together as a neighborhood to ensure everyone was OK and sharing meals with our neighbors as well. Whoever had something thawing that needed to be eaten, we would add that to the meal and share all around. Those of us with a wood stove were able to cook basic meals and then those with a generator would brew the always important coffee and share. There was a definite sense of togetherness and closeness of family to work together to get through it and help those who needed some help.

Initially the ice storm left us a landscape of beautiful crystal plated trees and bushes, and a house without power.

Fortunately we had a generator purchased after a hurricane a decade before. Unfortunately the generator had limited power and a one gallon tank for the gasoline.

Initially we needed extension cords to hook up the refrigerator, the well pump, the furnace, the septic pump, and a lamp or two. With the limited generator power plus not enough extension cords, I was continually plugging and unplugging cords. I was also continually filling the small fuel tank, not only on our generator but also on the generator of our neighbor, an elderly widow.

This went on for 10 or 12 days until I finally figured out how to hook the generator to the electric panel so I could control what was getting power with circuit breakers and not extension cords. But I still had to keep refueling the generator one gallon at a time for the full 15 days we were without power. It took awhile after we did get power before I was rid of a pervasive smell of gasoline.

We ended up being part of a small patch of homes still dark when everywhere else seemed to have power. This finally got to my wife, who was working in Augusta. Coming home after work, she would feel optimistic, from seeing lights everywhere, only to get her hopes dashed to the point of tears by the darkened reality at home.

The upside to the ice storm was increased community feeling during the storm, with several neighbors sharing, caring and helping each other. Of our five houses, only one was able to heat enough water for showers, which were made available to the rest by appointment. We shared meals with the elderly neighbor, which she cooked on her wood stove.

When the power finally came on, it lit up more than our house.

Ice encrusted branches are cleared from power lines along South High Street in Bridgton as freezing rain and hail contributed to the load on the trees. David A. Rodgers/Press Herald

We were living in Chelsea at the time and lost power for five days. We drove into Augusta to shower at my father’s apartment. I was the library director in Boothbay Harbor and it was a completely different climate zone there, so people had trouble believing we were back to primitive living. We had a gas stove, kerosene lanterns, and wood heat, so we felt more inconvenienced than in a hardship situation.

Our widowed neighbor came across the road and spent time sitting around the stove with us as we read to each other in the evenings after a shared meal. Saddest moment was when I heard a tearing sound and watched as ice on its branches split my beloved cherry tree in half.

******** Related Interactive timeline of the storm

We got the last room available at the motel that was attached to Denny’s near St. John Street. I remember the ice on all of the trees, and how eerie it felt coming back home to flush the toilets every day, and when it was dark, seeing a light on a distant street, but being surrounded by darkness and stillness. A good friend also got a room at the motel. Her son’s birthday occurred while we were there, so we had store-bought cake in their room, had some laughs, and made the best of it. We were there for seven or eight nights, came home and the power went out again. I called the motel to see if they still had our room. The motel clerk, who we became acquainted with, said “yes” and we stayed there for another three nights, for a total of 10 nights. As I recall, we were reimbursed for our motel stay by FEMA.

I remember my parents, sister and I camping in our kitchen where there was a wood stove. I was a junior at Jay High School at the time and after a few days of not showering because of the lack of power, I put on my old cross-country skis and skied across town to my girlfriend’s house. They had a generator and hot water. That was one of my most memorable skis, with the sound of the trees cracking and being able to ski down the middle of roads.

******** Related Photos: Scenes from the Ice Storm of 1998

Aerosmith was coming to Portland on Jan. 7 and we had bought tickets for two of our kids and four of their friends as a Christmas gift. Talk about excitement!

Well, we lived in Winthrop and the weather report that afternoon was concerning, so I called the Civic Center to see if the concert would be rescheduled. Nope, the band had already set up. Tickets were not cheap and not refundable. I even called the governor’s office to see if they were able to declare a state of emergency, but no luck there. I thought about calling Steven Tyler because I knew someone who knew someone, but I gave up on that.

Six sad teenagers wasn’t something to look forward to, so my husband drove them down to Portland and asked if he could sit in a chair in the lobby to wait. He was taken up to the VIP area overlooking the concert and had a great view of the show. He was impressed with the Nine Lives tour.

It took him over three hours to navigate the usual one-hour drive home to Winthrop. A plow driver took one of the boys home. One of the girls had to come back to our house. The minute our garage door closed, the power got knocked out…for 13 days. We were blessed to have a wonderful woodstove in our basement and plenty of wood. We filled buckets and coolers from the lake to flush toilets and had lanterns to shed light. And happy teenagers, for a while.

Tom Gyger of South Bridgton uses his own tractor to clear a path down Route 107 on Jan. 9, 1998. Geyger was laboring with three other South Bridgton residents to clear a path down the closed section of Route 107 to rescue Mac Gillet from his remote home at Moose Cove. David A. Rodgers/Press Herald

We lived in Oakland at the time and I was an obsessed ice fisherman. I can distinctly remember driving my truck and trailer carrying my snowmobile south on the Pond Road towards Sidney. The road looked like a slalom course. Trees were down here and there on both sides.

Road crews had snaked their way spreading sand and salt, trying to keep one lane open. I was struck by how beautiful everything was. The early morning sun was glistening on ice-encrusted branches. Once at my fishing shack on Messalonskee Lake, the only sound I could hear was the constant put put put of gasoline generators operating from homes along the shoreline. My dog Baxter and I enjoyed a full day on the ice and were visited by a bald eagle who accepted a gift of a small pickerel.

Bill Dolley, Columbia, South Carolina

What I most remember were the sounds. There was silence because the electricity was out. But then there would be the very loud snap of a tree breaking due to the weight of the ice. It was eerie. We roughed it for a couple of days and spent one night in a hotel in South Portland. Then we packed up all our semi-frozen food and headed to family in Massachusetts. On our way there we saw all the out-of-state electric company trucks coming into Maine to help restore power. It was a good site to see.

This January 8, 1998 file photo shows Central Maine Power linemen working in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Central Maine Staff Photographer

The constant cracking of ice and branches is something that will stay with me.

It’s difficult to imagine what a post apocalyptic world would look like, but the constant noise and the inability to get where you needed to go (days for some; week or more for others) hinted at the challenges we’d face if the situation were dire.

Does anyone remember the Masonic Building in Bangor? It burned and as the fire was put out, the water froze and encased the building. The fire was extinguished, but the Masonic Building had to be demolished because the weight of the ice compromised its structure.

I also remember Governor Angus King being ever present, overseeing operations, providing regular updates and reminding everyone that neighbors help neighbors.

At the time I was principal of Bowdoin Central School, which was without power for about two weeks. Some residents of the town were without power for more than a month. I remember going to the school after about five days to check on things. We had several portable classrooms at the time and one of the first grade teachers wanted me to check on Snow Flake, the class guinea pig. Unfortunately, Snow Flake was frozen solid. When the school was up and running, the first graders were upset to learn that their class pet had died. We spent a good portion of the morning meeting talking about all of Snow Flake’s positive points.

A resident of Route 114 in Gorham put a sign out for the CMP crew letting them know the family has no power, Jan. 14 1998. Signs like this help crews determine who had not had their power restored at individual homes affected by the ice storm. Gordon Chibroski/Press Herald

Numerous power lines and trees which were laden with ice, fell, causing power outages to hundreds of thousands of people in that area. Many were without power for over two weeks. We Fitzpatricks went for 9 days without power, living mostly in the kitchen, heating with and cooking on our old Glenwood Cook Stove, flushing the toilet with ice-melted water and sleeping under many blankets. We played games, I knit, we read, we had friends visit, and we lived simply.

The day that Pat Dawson of NBC came to interview us about what it was like was the day our power came back on…as we prepared for the interview the lights came on and the furnace kicked in…the reporter wanted us to turn the furnace off as it was making too much noise for the microphone!

“The electricity gods had more power than the news gods”…we did the interview and celebrated!

Jennifer and Michael Fitzpatrick, Durham

The storm hit on our daughter’s 9th birthday. We had invited all of her buddies over for a pizza party and sleepover. Everyone was having a blast even though the power went out.

Barry Rhoads (left) and Joel Kuntz, line workers from General Power Utility of Pennsylvania, repair power lines in Cape Elizabeth on Jan. 25, 1998. Herb Swanson/Press Herald

Our house was new and well insulated with lots of south-facing windows and a big living room with a wood stove so the kids made a giant nest of blankets, puffs and stuffed animals on the floor. The cupboards were well stocked with snacks, birthday cake, healthy foods, and pretty much everything we needed for many days.

All the parents checked in with us the next day and the kids were having so much fun and were warm and safe so the party continued for another day and night. And then another and another when school kept being canceled!

Every time one of the many oak branches snapped under the weight of the ice out in the nearby woods, it sounded like a gunshot which resulted in a cacophony of shrieks and fake gunshot wounds, then many giggles.

The worst part was not being able to flush the toilets but that also caused many more giggles.

For 5 days we “made lemonade from lemons” and had a blast. The girls are still great buddies and most of them are now moms themselves.

Henry and BJ Kennedy, Cumberland

My husband and I had been married for 3 months when the ice storm hit. We lived in Hallowell at that time.

He was a paramedic/firefighter and was at work throughout the storm. I was at home in our apartment.

I had flashlights and candles. We had received an L.L.Bean camp stove for our wedding but had no propane to use it. In between shifts he was able to find one cylinder and brought it so I could make hot water for tea/cocoa/coffee, that I shared with my neighbors.

I remember watching the transformers below us and the flash as they shorted out.

We remember having to hire someone to take down 10 trees in our yard that were severely damaged as well as filing an insurance claim for food in our chest freezer we were unable to salvage.

In this photo from Jan. 13, 1998, towns like Limerick, in western York County, still showed the effects of the ice storm days later. John Ewing/Press Herald

We were trapped in our housing development for several days as a large tree came down blocking the only road out. We lived in our basement until power was restored, thankful for the stove used to heat said basement and praying for those not as fortunate.

Needless to say, it was not inconsistent with the experience of many others but still not forgotten.

The Fitzgibbon family, North Windham

I was living in an apartment in Freeport one block away from L.L.Bean. I had recently moved back to Maine from Vermont with my new graduate degree. I hadn’t yet started my new job and had just broken up with my boyfriend.

When the power went out after dark I didn’t have anyone to call, but I found out from local public safety that the First Parish Congregational church was open. The sidewalks and steps leading down to the church were so icy that I had to crawl. The church bell rang and it was the eeriest sound I’d ever heard; it sounded like the sound waves were warped.

Once inside the lights were on, it was warm, and a lady with a big smile welcomed me and then went into the kitchen to stir a pot. Not long after we all sat down family-style and shared a meal of hot soup. Everyone was so kind and warm. I enjoyed meeting so many new people!

L.L.Bean had donated some “Warm Feelings” (that was the actual name) blankets for sleeping on the floor. I chose the room with a small library and read most of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by candlelight.

I think it’s so ironic that one of the iciest times in my life generated some of my warmest memories!

A group of 12 had secured a private lodge on Saddleback Mountain for an entire week.

Evelyn Moore holds one of her cats while sitting in front of her wood stove on Jan. 16, 1998. Moore decided to stay in her Shapleigh farm house throughout the ice storm despite having no power or water, so as to be with her cats and other animals. John Ewing/ Press Herald

The lodge had its own generator and was very comfortable. They had closed the skiing due to weather conditions but a few of us had brought snowmobiles as well and despite the lousy weather, we went snowmobiling.

At a certain elevation we could hear what sounded like shotgun blasts going off somewhere above our elevation. They were actually huge tree limbs snapping. And as the conditions changed, these branches just kept snapping even though we had turned around to go back to the camp. There were many areas where we had to lift these machines over fallen limbs. It was scary!

Here comes the dumbest thing we did: We all decided to leave this perfectly safe, contained, stocked, warm lodge and return to the Portland area.

We had 9 days of no power. We have a well so that meant no water…always the biggest problem when we lose power. We had heat from a wood stove and a propane cook stove so we didn’t abandon the house like many of our friends and neighbors did. We got bottles of water each day from the fire station in Freeport.

The kids were 7 and 4 and they thought of it like we were camping. Boredom became a problem for them. They made forts out of furniture and blankets and probably rebuilt every Lego set that they had.

I was working at L.L. Bean and so was able to get a shower at work and sometimes I would bring in the family for showers too.

Bernie Twombly of South Bridgton says his trusty “antique” generator and wood stove saved the day as he fought hard to stabilize his home from storm damage during the ice storm, on Jan. 16, 1998. He was vacationing in Florida during the storm and after viewing the news about Maine on TV he decided to fly home. Gordon Chibroski/ Press Herald

Downtown Freeport got power back relatively quickly and I remember that the lighted homes would get less frequent as I drove from work to home.

The saddest part of the days was evening when we had to light candles and get the headlamps out.

When the power company came finally down the road restoring power, we greeted them like a liberating army. Brought them hot chocolate.

Not an experience I would want to repeat, but it did give me new respect for the people who lived before electricity or those who now live without it.

I was working as a radio dispatcher during the ’98 ice storm for a road service company. I dispatched for central Maine, NH and Vermont.

I remember working really long shifts and taking naps in the break room. We couldn’t go anywhere so we just slept and worked.

I’m glad I wasn’t in the call center, because people were yelling at our customer service team because they wanted to go to the grocery store and couldn’t understand that we were operating on an emergency-only basis.

Mike Page of Ocean Park, cleans up debris, on Jan. 25, 1998. Merry Farnum/Press Herald

We were dispatching tow trucks to help other tow truck drivers who were stuck. I’m a combat veteran and when the tow truck drivers would stop by the main building to take a break, they looked like soldiers walking off the battlefield.

There were no rival tow truck companies during that storm, it was one big team doing everything they could to help people in danger.

I may have worked 36 hours straight, but I did so in a building with power, heat and hot water. The drivers worked those long hours driving in the worst conditions possible helping everyone they could.

I saw that storm bring out the absolute best and worst in people. The tow truck drivers and first responders were the true heroes of that storm. They did everything in their power to get to people and help them to safety.

I was in my 4th year at UMaine at the time. We were on winter break and I was living in a fraternity house with some other members.

The UMaine campus was very eerie without power, especially at night. And it was the first time I recall UMaine canceling classes.

At our house we went for a while without heat, water, power, etc. We thought we were smart by using cans of Sterno that would otherwise heat food trays to instead heat our rooms. Fortunately one of us remembered quick enough that CO2 was dangerous, so we opened our windows a crack to let in fresh air. The cans warmed our hands but the cracked windows probably more than offset any heat we gained from the Sterno LOL.

There wasn’t much to do so we scrounged for food and kept warm with blankets and as much leftover beer as we could find.

Not having phone or TV was good for bonding and conversation. At some point, we learned of a local nursing home that could not get meals up the stairs due to their generators not powering the elevators, so we volunteered to carry meal trays up the stairs for the seniors.

Later that spring, we did a lot of yard clean up for elderly Orono residents who had tree limbs and other debris leftover from the ice storm.

I was working at Biddeford PD during that time.

The ice storm kept getting worse and worse with all sorts of infrastructure taking a hit. Electrical service was shutting down left and right, ice on the roads made for dangerous driving conditions, and people were getting very concerned, if not starting to panic. Their homes were without any heat and in some cases cellars were starting to flood as sump pumps could not work. Food supplies in refrigerators and freezers could at least be kept outside to preserve them.

I had a portable generator. It was passed along among friends and acquaintances and neighbors just long enough to get their house warmed up and keep the cold at bay. Everybody was good about refilling it and paying it forward. It worked out to about two to three hours for each house.

Frozen sunflowers show the effects of being hit by two ice storms in a field in Arundel, Jan. 25, 1998. Merry Farnum/Press Herald

I’ll never forget the scenery, especially when the storm was pretty much over with. Overnight into the hour just before dawn I would head up to the top of Chicks Hill, Rt 111 by the town line with Arundel and watch what appeared to be lightning, but was in fact power lines snapping non-stop for miles off in the distance.

When the sun came up the sheer beauty of ice reflecting the sunlight reminded me of what Superman’s Ice Castle would look like. Among all the carnage and hardship there was still a magnificent picturesque side to it.

The sheer number of households with electricity was stunning. Nearly 95 percent, if not more, of the state was without any power, some for many weeks.

Yet through it all, friends, neighbors, emergency workers, and many more all managed to get through and survived this test.

I was an AT&T fiber optic technician at the time the ice storm hit. My job was to patrol and maintain the fiber optic cable route between Portland and just northeast of Augusta.

The fiber optic route eventually replaced the microwave towers that were a landmark sight located atop the AT&T office in Portland for many years as well as the towers it transmitted to northern Maine. I will never forget the sights as I cautiously drove my AT&T truck from Portland up the Main turnpike to Hallowell were I had to check on the status of the Farmingdale fiber Regen station.

My biggest worry was whether I could get to the station in Farmingdale. It was obvious as I drove down Bowman Hill that I had lost all commercial power to the station and prayed that the backup generator had kicked in.

As I approached the station I noticed several large cylindrical objects laying in front of entry gate to the hut. And then I saw it: The large CMP power line that was just a few yards away from my station had collapsed and those 100-foot poles had snapped, sending those large insulators flying, just missing my station!

Thankfully the generator had kicked in but it was almost a week before local power was restored so I had to sweat out refueling should that be necessary. Needless to say CMP had a big job ahead of them replacing that main line. It was a few hectic days, to say the least!

My first thought was disbelief. The freezing rain just kept coming and coming without letup. We kept hearing the cracking of branches as limbs broke off trees, and then even small trees came down.

It wasn’t long before the power went out. The only heat we had was a standalone kerosene heater, which we had to be careful of due to carbon monoxide buildup. We took stuff out of the fridge and put them into coolers outside to keep food, milk, and eggs cold.

I had a small transistor radio to keep up with the news, which was our only link to the outside world. After the storm stopped, the sun came out and the beauty of it shining through all the ice was incredible.

In one way, we were very lucky. We’re on a main road in Casco, and got our power back in a little over three days. Never were we so glad to hear the fridge humming again, be able to watch TV, and go about our normal lives, while knowing that for so many others, it would be many more days.

After the storm, we drove around the area to take a lot of photos and see so many trees either down or bent over due to the weight of the ice. It was unforgettable.

I was 9 and in 4th grade when the ice storm happened.

It hit about 3 weeks after my mom had given birth to my sister and I remember being concerned even at that age that she was going to die (a la Little House on the Prairie).

We lived in West Falmouth and instantly lost power, but my grandmother who lived in Libbytown in Portland (connected to hospital line I’m thinking in hindsight) never lost it so we went to stay with with her: a family of 4 with a 3-week old infant crammed into a tiny two bedroom home with an elderly woman very much used to her privacy.

When I found out my cousins were staying at the hotel (then it was the DoubleTree) on Sewall Street I begged my parents to let me stay with them and they obliged so I ended up living the high life of an indoor pool and room service for 5 days before we got our power back!

Clearly the concern for the new baby didn’t last!

It was almost my first year at a new (public) school in Falmouth so I was very concerned about “losing friends” and what would happen to the school year.

We went without power for 11 days because we were just one house. “You come last.” That’s fair.

We had a standup freezer in my breezeway. I opened it at night and closed it during the day. We didn’t lose anything.

No well pump, no water. Melting snow works for the toilet. Beef stew can be made with Budweiser beer. My recipe has been published. The only use for bottled water is coffee. Thirsty? Have a beer. Gas stoves rule.

The punch line was that I was self-employed and because of the nature of the business, we should have done a lot of billing during that time. Due to the outage, our insurance paid us $500/day. I didn’t care if the power ever comes on!

So many stories of kindness, people that offered me a place to shower, a hot meal, a short time where the temperature is above 40. And when CMP finally arrived to fix my one of one, I was never so happy or grateful.

A very humbling experience and I am a better person for it.

We were newly married and had renovated our farmhouse in Vassalboro. We woke up to darkness, cold and the most awful sound of trees snapping.

We had no power for about 5-6 days. It was very difficult as we had horses who needed water. The first day the roads were blocked by downed trees. We stayed in bed under the down comforter with our cocker spaniel for about 1.5 days. We were very panicked about our pipes freezing and our sweet new home being destroyed.

Our friends in Waterville had power and we had dinner at their home. The contrast between their comfortable existence and our truly miserable one was stark.

On Day 3, I heard there were generators in Bangor. I drove up there and stood in line for what seemed like hours to get a generator at Home Depot. I paid $329, which was a lot of money for us. But I got one and nothing sounded better than the whir of that generator and the joy we felt to have heat and electricity.

Last week the power went out in the gale we had here in Falmouth. My husband fired up that generator we bought all those years ago. We have used it nearly every winter since that dreadful ice storm. It still brings amazing comfort to have comfort when everything goes dark.

What I remember the most was the total silence. No cars on the road. The only sound was of the trees behind our house crashing down under the weight of the ice.

My husband and I had saved up money (back then it was hard to do) to buy a half side of beef, then boom no power! We thought “Oh no!” We put some outside in coolers to save our investment.

We had a kerosene lantern and a Coleman camping stove. We had some great meals of t-bone steaks and ribeyes for supper by the light of that kerosene lantern. We lost power for 5 days but managed to keep all that expensive meat!

For the first week, we knew people who were losing power every day and it wasn’t coming back on. We were lucky until Friday, Jan 9 when the lights flickered and everything went dark. I thought, that’s it, will be without power for the weekend (at least).

I started calling hotels/motels but everything was booked. Our children were 6 and 9, we had an oil furnace and an electric stove, and it was getting colder by the minute. I was worried. Then, like a miracle, the lights came on at 5 pm!

My husband went out to find the CMP guys to thank them. It turns out, they had been working up the road in Gorham for the whole entire day and hadn’t brought one house back on line in 8 hours. They were so discouraged that at 4 pm, they looked at their list of outages and saw my neighborhood and said, “We can fix this one, and at least a few people will be warm this weekend.” They were right and I will be forever grateful to them for that decision!

Another clear memory: The newspaper (this paper!) set up a free exchange listing so people could offer other people things they might need. This was before the Internet, so no Facebook community pages. People were sitting around in the dark and cold without power but they could read the paper and as I recall, phones continued to work.

We had two wood stoves that we had removed from active use when our children were little. We listed them in the paper and they were snapped up in hours. The people who took them were so grateful. We were glad to be able to do something since we managed to get through the whole event relatively unscathed.

I was working at USM at the time and my office was in one of the old houses on Exeter Street. The bathroom still had the tub and shower, although it hadn’t been used in years. Someone brought in a shower curtain, soap, and some towels and got it running. We had people from across campus come in to use the shower – one woman was a regular for 3 weeks. She didn’t get her power back on until late January.

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In their words: A collection of memories shared by our readers  - Portland Press Herald

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