Rhode Island coastal communities hit hard by Sandy
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) — Tom Shalvey and his family bought a 500-square-foot beach cottage five years ago at Roy Carpenter's Beach in South Kingstown, a summer community made up of dozens of tiny homes, many sitting just steps from Block Island Sound.
A day after the superstorm known as Sandy hit Rhode Island, his neighborhood was devastated. Shalvey's cottage was gone and dozens more were damaged or destroyed.
Coastal communities from the Watch Hill section of Westerly to Newport were hard hit by Sandy, which brought with it pounding surf that wiped away beaches, punched through seawalls and flooded homes and businesses. High winds did their worst further inland, where trees fell on homes, cars and power lines, knocking out electricity to a quarter of the state's residents.
At Roy Carpenter's Beach, a green utility pipe was the only marker of where Shalvey's cottage once sat.
"We love the beach. We had many great times here. We will be back, but it will not be on the front row," he said. He pointed to an 8-foot-by-3-foot pile of splintered wood and siding. "That structure right there is my bathroom."
The cottages on either side of Shalvey's were also gone. Elsewhere, other cottages were sliding into the water, precariously balanced on what was left of a beach that had been mostly washed away.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who toured the damage Tuesday with Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed and other officials, said the state's coastal communities "really got pounded," including Misquamicut in Westerly, where the damage is so bad residents won't be able to return to their homes for another day or two. In Watch Hill, wooden steps that once led to the beach dangled five feet above the sand that remained.
"There were whole homes that were on the oceanfront," said Chafee after a tour of damage in the Matunuck area of Westerly. "Now the ocean is behind the house."
Chafee said business owners in Misquamicut are in shock from the damage by water and heavy surf — much worse than last year's Tropical Storm Irene. The road to Misquamicut was inundated with sand and debris and is not passable. National Guard personnel are guarding the properties.
Sherry Federico, co-owns three women's clothing boutiques, JC's, in Westerly. She inspected the one in Misquamicut first and discovered it was filled with sand, likely a total loss. Later, she made it into Watch Hill, where one store was undamaged. The other had been flooded by the surging tide and showed a brown water line of 3½ feet.
"Thank god it's still here," she said soon after discovering the flooded shop. "We raised the merchandise up, but we still lost some things."
Barbara Stillman, 52, has lived in Misquamicut her whole life and runs a timeshare and condo business on the beach. She evacuated before the storm and went up in a plane to inspect the damage Tuesday morning.
"There's no beach left," she said. "They're going to have to do something."
Chafee stressed that much of the state only "got brushed" by the storm and said it could have been much worse, a sentiment echoed by Whitehouse.
"There are pockets of real destruction, but overall we were lucky," Whitehouse said.
Chafee spoke on a conference call with President Barack Obama and governors of other storm-damaged states Tuesday, and said Obama told them the federal government would assist with recovery. The state said Tuesday it had already been granted $3 million in federal emergency relief funds for road reconstruction. The state hopes work could begin within days or weeks.
According to National Grid about 80,000 electric customers were without power Tuesday evening, down from more than 115,000 earlier in the day. Tim Horan, president of National Grid in Rhode Island, said many people should get power back Tuesday and Wednesday, but he warned that others might be without it until later in the week. Most of the outages are in the southern part of the state.
Several business owners at Bowen's Wharf at Newport Harbor, which has about 40 retails shops, restaurants and galleries, reported having up to two feet of water inside their stores when the flooding was worst Monday night, according to Michelle Gagne, a spokeswoman for the wharf. "Everyone has their Shop-Vacs out," she said.
Nancy Dodge, the town manager in New Shoreham, said there was serious beach erosion on Block Island and several roads on the eastern side sustained major damage, making them impassable. She said a "tremendous amount" of sand had blanketed other roadways and will need to be cleared. She said the damage was worse than Irene, but said much of it was expected.
State officials reported no major injuries or deaths as of Tuesday. Mandatory evacuations had been ordered in coastal and low-lying communities along Narragansett Bay on Sunday and Monday, and about 100 people stayed in shelters Monday night, state spokeswoman Laura Hart said.
Many children had a second day off school Tuesday, but life was getting back to normal in other ways. RIPTA public bus service resumed after being shut down Monday, although it warned riders to expect minor delays. MBTA commuter rails service also started back up Tuesday morning, and flights resumed at T.F. Green Airport, although many were canceled.
The National Weather Service says preliminary data showed Sandy was the fifth-highest crest on record at Fox Point in Providence, at the top of Narragansett Bay, at 9.5 feet Monday night. The highest point on record was during the 1938 hurricane, when the water crested at 17.4 feet.
Associated Press writers Erika Niedowski in Cranston and Michelle R. Smith in Providence contributed to this report.