Irene in photos: Wind, waves and little rain

The wash at Philbin Beach in Aquinnah created a dizzying effect. — Photo by Tim Johnson

Gusts of wind and intermittent bands of rain lashed Martha’s Vineyard Sunday. For the most part, the Island escaped the full force of hurricane Irene, downgraded to a tropical storm as it passed over New York City but still packing a destructive punch.

The highest wind gust approached 60 miles per hour and less than one inch of rain fell on Martha’s Vineyard, according to weather sites. Erosion caused by the churning surf claimed large chunks of south-facing beach from Chappaquiddick to Gay Head and imperiled two houses perched close to the cliff face just west of Stonewall Beach in Chilmark.

In advance of the storm, on Friday, Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency for Massachusetts. And President Obama departed Martha’s Vineyard Friday. The National Weather Service predicted south winds 40 to 50 mph, with gusts as high as 75 mph.

Shelters opened across the Island at 4 pm, Saturday. By Sunday afternoon, Edgartown announced its shelter would close at 4 pm.

Throughout the day, Edgartown issued regular updates on changing conditions. Dock Street and Main Street, closed due to flooding, reopened in the afternoon, much to the delight of storm watchers.

Access to Oak Bluffs from Edgartown via Beach Road was closed due to washover in Oak Bluffs at Seaview Avenue. Atlantic Drive was impassable due to flooding, much to the delight of wave watchers.

Traffic was light on Island roads most of the day Sunday, as residents heeded warnings to stay off the roadway. Broken branches, upturned trees, and fallen wires illustrated the risk promised in each gust of wind.

The sun peeked intermittently from the clouds Sunday afternoon, and with it there was a sense that the worst was over, even as public safety officials reminded residents to stay indoors.

Four young men waded into the surf at South Beach, exposing themselves and any would-be rescuers to great danger. Police ordered the men out of the water.

Edgartown police Chief Tony Bettencourt said the wind, and with it stinging blasts of sand, precluded written warnings. He said police delivered “verbal” warnings to Paul Conroy, 24, of Edgartown, who they recognized, and three men they did not recognize and so could not identify.

Mr. Bettencourt said a rescue in those surf conditions would have been impossible. He said the men’s thoughtless action in entering the surf put his officers at risk and diverted resources from other emergency calls.

“My men had to drive down to a beach that was posted closed, walk around the puddles by going through the briars and get sand-blasted so they could tell those guys to get out of the water,” Chief Bettencourt said. “Where’s the common sense?”

The Chappy ferry ended service Saturday night on Coast Guard orders. However, it was pressed into service Sunday afternoon to transport an ambulance carrying a seven-year-old boy with a broken arm who had been staying with his grandparents.

“We are always on emergency standby,” ferry owner Peter Wells told The Times.

Mr. Wells navigated the ferry across Edgartown Harbor to pick up an EMT and ambulance driver and brought them back to Chappy and an ambulance already parked on Edgartown’s easternmost community.

Asked about the trip in the teeth of the storm, Mr. Wells said the tide and wind were directly opposite. “It was a straight shot right across,” he said. “I can tell you there was a good amount of current flowing under that boat.”

Diners waiting late Sunday morning outside the Art Cliff Restaurant on Beach Road, a familiar Sunday scene, would have contributed a sense of normalcy but for flooded Five Corners.

Up-Island towns were without power much of the day. Portions of Tisbury also lost power. Many residents escaped the storm with only a brief power flicker.

Tree and power crews stationed on the Island prior to the storm moved quickly to remove fallen trees and repair wires.

Sunday evening, Giordano’s Restaurant was crowded. Patrons included an Island couple without power at home who had decided to dine out, and stranded visitors with no choice but to do the same.

Waves smashed a hole through the barrier beach that protects upper Chilmark Pond. The Menemsha gas dock was under water. But there was not much to worry about, because there were no boats in need of fuel.

Several boats broke free of their moorings. A power boat washed up on the beach next to the Lagoon launch ramp, and a 55-foot Hinckley picnic boat washed up in Quitsa in Chilmark.

On Monday, the Steamship Authority resumed regularly scheduled service (See related story on Page X).

Atlantic Drive closed to traffic due to flooding, also reopened, as did State Road between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. South Beach was closed to swimming, but reopened Tuesday.

By Wednesday Martha’s Vineyard appeared to have moved into the post-summer season calm one week early.