Eugene Decosta of Vineyard Haven has seen a lot of big blows in his 75 years on Martha’s Vineyard, but the one that started Friday and continued for the better part of three days was different.
“It’s one of the worst northeast storms I’ve seen, and I’ve been here my whole life,” he said. “Northeast storms are not nice, they’re worse than hurricanes sometimes. Hurricanes come in for a day and they’re gone. This storm hung around for a good three days.”
The storm packed a wild punch, knocking down trees and causing scattered power outages that lasted as long as two days for some customers. The pounding surf created a chaotic scene in Vineyard Haven Harbor, where four sailboats broke free from their moorings, and flooding was exacerbated by the duration of the storm, as well as astronomical high tides.
The storm was so destructive throughout the commonwealth that Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency.
“What’s amazing is with all the trees that came down, nobody was hurt,” Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling said. “The tree damage was very similar to Hurricane Bob.”
The storm taxed emergency crews, with so many first responders away for school vacation week. “Everybody was stressed for help,” Schilling said. On the plus side, with so many families off-Island for vacation, there were fewer cars on the roads, he said.
Edgartown recorded the highest wind gust on the Island, at 74 mph, and Vineyard Haven collected 2.72 inches of rain, Lenore Correia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, told The Times.
There was a spectacular “dancing wire” that Edgartown firefighters responded to Friday night on Upper Main Street, Chief Alex Schaeffer said. “Proximity to the gas station was a concern,” he said. Eversource was called to shut off the power in that area, Schaeffer said.
Winds tore off a small section of the Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop roof, and the subsequent leak combined with the prodigious amount of precipitation left considerable damage to the store ceiling and forced management to close two aisles Monday.
Multiple breaches on Chappy beaches
The nor’easter caused numerous breaches on the northern end of Chappaquiddick.
Aerial views of the damage, provided by local pilot Bill Brine and posted on the Chappy Ferry Facebook page, show multiple breaks on either side of the elbow, particularly on the sliver of beach that runs between the elbow and Cape Poge Gut.
“I’m not surprised we had a breach at the very beginning of the elbow, but I am surprised at how many breaches there are,” The Trustees of Reservations Martha’s Vineyard superintendent Chris Kennedy said. So far, Kennedy has counted four breaches and two areas of overwash that may be smaller breaches.
The storm also washed away part of the bank where the foundation of the old lighthouse, which has been sliding down the embankment the past few summers, was sitting.
“The foundation is now squarely on the beach, and it’s blocking vehicle traffic,” Kennedy said. “You can get a small ATV around it at low tide, but at high tide it’s not an option. I’m going to have to contact the Coast Guard; we have to get that out of there.”
Ferry service to the Vineyard was shut down for the better part of two days Friday and Saturday before resuming on Sunday. The lack of boats created chaotic scenes on both sides of Vineyard Sound.
In Woods Hole, Susan Rosin, who had fled ahead of the storm, was looking to get back and check on her property in Vineyard Haven. “I just hope it’s not too rough on the boat,” she said.
One crossing was made on Saturday, the 2:30 pm from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven. Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker, who made his way back to the Vineyard on that ferry, overheard the captain say, “Tie it up tight, we’re not going anywhere.”
In Vineyard Haven Saturday, Katie of Edgartown told a Times reporter that she was thrilled earlier in the day when her electricity finally went back on. “I woke up like a kid on Christmas. Power!” Katie said.
Even on Monday, SSA ferries struggled with the crossings as the wind continued to whip. The 3:45 pm boat out of Vineyard Haven was the last one to run that day.
The Chappy Ferry also shut down for most of the day Friday, and most of Saturday, as the Edgartown wharf area was underwater.
Martha’s Vineyard Airport remained open throughout the storm, Ann Richart, airport manager, told The Times. Cape Cod Air suspended service on Friday, and there were delays on Saturday, she wrote in an email.
“We did lose local power, but we have generators powering both the airfield and the terminal, so those kept us going,” she wrote. “We experienced some roof leaks in the buildings and some minor damage in the parking lots, but overall fared well.”
Flooding and more erosion
The storm battered the coastline, causing erosion and inundating low-lying areas, causing roads like Beach Road in Vineyard Haven and Beach Road in Edgartown to close. The Lagoon Drawbridge was also closed for several hours Friday.
Downed trees also shut down roadways temporarily.
In an email to The Times, Pat Waring recounted the story about the felled tree that closed State Road near the Scottish Bakehouse for two hours Friday night.
Waring saw the tree or trees across the road as she drove up-Island toward her home in West Tisbury at around 6 pm. “It was just after dark, blustery with occasional gusts and moderate rain,” she wrote.
Drivers were being rerouted onto Lambert’s Cove Road, until a downed tree blocked that road, she wrote.
Crews called in a crane, a large dump truck and floodlights to clear the road, she wrote.
“A few drivers or onlookers briefly took refuge in the Bakehouse, which was warm and welcoming,” she wrote. “The restaurant stayed open a little past closing time to accommodate customers delayed by the blocked road.”
Marooned on Chappy
Eunice Youmans, general manager of The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR), who just joined the staff in November, spent her first major storm stranded in her new home on Chappaquiddick.
“There have been other storms, but this was the biggest,” she told The Times. “This is the first time the power went out. When you don’t have power on Chappy, you don’t have water.”
Youmans took it in stride being without electricity for 24 hours, even if her 11-year-old son wasn’t loving the fact that he was suddenly unplugged. “It was fun,” she said.
A tree was blocking her road, so there was no going anywhere. “It forced me to meet my neighbors,” she said. “Matt came over and cut the tree with a chainsaw.”
There were two lessons from the storm for Youmans. “I should have bought a generator, and I should have put in a landline,” she said. Both are being rectified, she said.
Youmans, Chris Kennedy, Rick Dwyer, Jack Klumick, and Alex Dorr went out to check storm damage on TTOR land and beaches.
In a detailed report, Kennedy said as of Monday, all oversand vehicle trails were closed due to severe flooding conditions. “Some trails are under 3-4 feet of water and are impassable,” he wrote.
Norton Point Beach suffered severe beach erosion at the entrance and along sections of the Leland Beach on Chappy. “We will be assessing the feasibility of moving this roadway as well as the Norton Point Gatehouse over the coming months,” he wrote.
At Mytoi Japanese Garden on Chappy, a large pine tree blew over and uprooted a large section of a bridge that spans the garden pond, causing significant damage, Kennedy wrote. A portion of the Dike Bridge gatehouse was also toppled by the winds, he wrote.
“At the FARM Institute, strong winds damaged the Greenhouse, and at Long Point, the strong winds destroyed a primary dune which had just been rebuilt by the Army Corps of Engineers following months of WWII munitions removal from under the sand dunes,” Kennedy wrote.
Up-Island beaches seemed to fare better in the storm. Bret Stearns, natural resources director for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) told The Times that beaches saw some change from the coastal flooding, but were not as drastically affected as other locations. Sand from a dredging project appeared to hold up at Lobsterville Beach, he wrote.
The causeway in Squibnocket from the beach to Squibnocket Farm was pummeled by storm surge. Rocks were strewn throughout the beach parking lot.
Four sailboats broke free of their moorings in Vineyard Haven Harbor. One of them, Heart’s Desire, posed a particular challenge, as it came to rest on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. Chief Schilling said securing the schooner was a team effort by Tisbury police, Eversource, Gannon & Benjamin, R.M. Packer Co., and Oak Bluffs Fire Chief John Rose, who blocked off the road.
With each wave the schooner’s bowsprit was edging further over Beach Road, and its mast was coming very close to “primary lines,” Schilling said. He called the response to Heart’s Desire “the highest priority — really a matter of public safety.”
Schilling said Eversource cut the power for fear Heart’s Desire would strike the power lines. The power was turned back on about an hour later. Packer’s tug pulled Heart’s Desire off the shore, he said. “Fortunately, no hull damage,” Schilling said.
A Gannon and Benjamin employee who assisted in rescuing the schooner called the damage “cosmetic,” and said the schooner’s hull was planked in exceptionally strong and dense iroko wood. The employee also said the schooner managed to come to rest on the only section of sand on an otherwise rocky shoreline. The employee said the schooner was on a town mooring that failed underwater. The schooner was towed back into the harbor and re-moored, and subsequently dragged that mooring across the harbor while Gannon and Benjamin and Tisbury Towing and Transportation crews worked to pull the sloop McNab off Owen Park Beach. Heart’s Desire was rescued again, and rafted to a barge for safety.
The McNabb was rescued during the storm and pumped out by its owner, Crocker said.
With another nor’easter bearing down on Martha’s Vineyard, the owners of two sailboats took Tuesday’s relatively calm weather to begin to rescue their boats from peril.
At the Steamship Authority docks, a crane from Tashmoo Boatyard was moved into place to remove the Witch of Endor’s masts. The large sailboat has become a bit of a tourist attraction in recent days as travelers getting on and off the ferries in Vineyard Haven stopped to snap photographs of the stranded boat.
The boat won’t be completely moved until later in the week, possibly Friday.
Meanwhile, a short distance away, between the Steamship terminal and Owen Park, Sea Tow pulled the cutter Rachel Saunders off the sand.
Damage assessments continue
High winds overturned Karsten Larsen’s sashimi booth in Menemsha. The storm broke off planks along the Dutcher Dock and commercial fishing wharf. Harbormaster Dennis Jason told the Chilmark board of selectmen Tuesday he’d already begun to replace the planking.
In Tisbury, a dock at Owen Park was damaged, and the DPW was busy throughout the storm chasing downed trees, DPW director Ray Tattersall told selectmen.
Tisbury building inspector Ken Barwick brought up two properties on Beach Road, without mentioning them by name, that create hazards in the harbor during storms. He handed in letters to selectmen. The Times has requested, but not yet received, those letters.
In Edgartown, harbormaster Charlie Blair informed Edgartown selectmen Monday that the only major damage to the harborfront was the ramp at Eel Pond that got washed out. The roadway before Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick also washed away, Blair said.
The channel appeared to have swung from under the bridge to in front of it, highway superintendent Stuart Fuller said. The channel also took out part of the parking lot there, he said.
Most of the tree damage was uprooted, healthy pines, Fuller said. “We were lucky. Could have been a lot worse if there had been snow associated with the storm,” he said.
Fuller warned that Wednesday’s storm may strain already taxed town drains. “This ground is saturated. Our drainage structures are stressed,” he said.
Only two people sought shelter during the storm, Chief Schaeffer told selectmen.
The department staged an ambulance on Chappaquiddick ahead of the Chappy Ferry halting service, he said, “to be a mobile ER, if you will.”
Schaeffer said his “biggest concern” after the storm was issues with generators in town hall, at the fire station, and on Chappaquiddick — all of which required troubleshooting to get them to work properly.
“So I think that’s something that we need to look at from an emergency management standpoint,” he said.
George Brennan, Gabrielle Mannino, Rich Saltzberg, and Barry Stringfellow contributed to this report.