Hurricane Sandy, the historic storm that dealt a knockout blow to New York city and the New Jersey coast early this week spared the Vineyard for the most part. But while the center of the storm stayed hundreds of miles away, the Island experienced near-hurricane conditions throughout the day on Monday, including serious flooding and coastal erosion, forcing school closures, transportation shuts downs and a day indoors for most Islanders, often without power.
The storm caused severe erosion, especially on eastern and south-facing shorelines in Chilmark and Edgartown, leaving several homes perilously close to the edge and shorelines dramatically altered. Vineyard Haven suffered the worst material damage of the six towns, and trees and branches were left scattered across Island roads. By Tuesday afternoon, most of the debris had been cleared. Several towns declared states of emergency after the storm to qualify for state and federal recovery funds.
On Chappaquiddick, there was concern for the Schifter house on Wasque, where emergency actions were recently taken to slow erosion that has caused the bluff to come ever closer to a large home. Last week, emergency certification was granted by the conservation commission to install coconut-fiber (coir) envelopes full of sand, meant to protect the bluff, before the storm hit.
George Sourati with Sourati Engineering Group said that only about 20 per cent of the work was completed before storm, but “they worked pretty well.”
On the west side, where all three layers of the coir envelopes were installed, he said there was about 14 feet of erosion, substantially more on the western side, which was less protected. He said they will continue with the coir envelope installation next week.
In Chilmark, a private home and cottage were left about a foot from the edge of a cliff after the storm on Stonewall Beach. Both buildings had been moved back 26 feet in December 2011, town records show.
Up-Island, Lucy Vincent Beach in Chilmark was all but gone by Tuesday morning. The dunes had been completely flattened and the red cliff was severely compromised. Further up the shore, the parking lot at Squibnocket Beach was badly damaged, large chunks of clay had fallen from the Gay Head Cliffs and a large portion of Lobsterville Beach had been washed out.
“The cave itself at Lucy Vincent Beach seemed like it exploded in the middle of [the cliff],” Chilmark beach committee chairman Pamela Bunker said this week. Chilmark selectmen endorsed a $3,000 erosion study to develop mitigation plans this week for the popular summer beach.
Bret Stearns, natural resources director for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), reported “quite a bit” of damage to the historic Gay Head clay cliffs.
“Significant portions of the cliff have fallen and landed on the beach or have moved position further down toward the water line,” Mr. Stearns said yesterday. “Some sections lost a lot of sand and some sections gained sand as well.”
Mr. Stearns said he did not have specific information for how much cliff was lost during the storm, but said some of the fallen pieces of the cliff weighed well over a half a ton. He reminded beach goers that tribal rangers are patrolling the beach and “any use of clay or foraging on the cliffs is illegal and any taking of the clay, no matter where it is, is prohibited.”
Lobsterville Beach also suffered heavy damage. The storm surge washed away about 30 feet of Lobsterville Road and the surrounding dune and sand.
“The dune all the way down that side got shredded and what will happen is that will drop off in place,” Mr. Stearns said. “We essentially lost that land.”
Down-Island, the ocean washed over Norton Point Beach at Katama in Edgartown, turning the eastern end of the beach into a sandbar covered with water during high tide, said Chris Kennedy, superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations. “ I wouldn’t call this a major breach, it’s a minor one that will eventually heal,” he said.
Mr. Kennedy also said Wasque point, which has been ravaged by erosion in the past year, lost 24 more feet of beach overnight. At the western end, he said about 15 feet of upland was lost. And there was a small breach at Long Point into Nahoman’s Pond, he said, that he hopes will heal.
As of Thursday evening, several Trustees properties were reopened, including Mytoi, Wasque and Menemsha Hills, and Mr. Kennedy said he hoped to reopen Long Point in the next few days, and at least part of Norton Point.
He said changes are unlikely to be permanent or to severely alter the Island
coastline. “Come next spring and next summer, people when they go out to the beach are not going to see much of an impact from Sandy,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Oak Bluffs conservation agent Liz Durkee said the East Chop Bluff has significant erosion in three spots, and the town may need emergency funding to repair those areas. The town lost sand at Pay Beach, Inkwell Beach, and Jetty Beach, she said.
The concern in Tisbury was property damage, with the town’s pump-out station and town docks hit hard by the storm.
The pump-out station “did get underwater and something hit it. It’s probably a total loss,” said Tisbury harbor master Jay Wilbur, though he added that it wouldn’t have been in use through most of the winter.
He said the cost of the equipment is about $30,000, though federal funding, which paid for the pump-out station in the first place, could pay for the replacement.
He said that more severe damage involves the Owen Park dock, which he said will need to be rebuilt. The Vineyard Haven Marina Dock was also heavily damaged.
Fortunately, Mr. Wilbur said, most boats stayed on their moorings. “It’s really pretty typical damage for a northeaster in Vineyard Haven harbor,” he said.
“I think the Island got off kind of light with the exception of Tisbury,” said Chuck Cotnoir, Dukes County emergency management director. He said the Vineyard Transit Authority reported no damage; the same was true for the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
The power company NStar tripled its crews on the Island to address scattered power outages across the Island.
“If I were to give high marks to anyone I would give them to NStar,” Mr. Cotnoir said. At one time over 4,000 power company customers had lost power, and by Tuesday morning, the number was well under 100. “They need some kudos,” Mr. Cotnoir said.
He said that emergency personnel are “ready for the next one . . . we’re expecting a number of blizzards this year.”
On Sunday afternoon, as Sandy churned north in the mid-Atlantic after tearing a path through the Caribbean three days earlier, Mr. Cotnoir met at the county office building with emergency and town personnel from around the Island to discuss plans for the oncoming storm. The group decided to send a code red alert to Islanders at 5 p.m. Sunday containing a warning about the storm.
The Red Cross opened a shelter at the Chilmark Community Center from 6 p.m. Sunday to noon on Tuesday. Emergency workers and public safety officers took advantage of the food, but nobody ended up spending the night.
Superintendent of Vineyard schools James H. Weiss made the call to cancel school on Monday and Tuesday.
The group reconvened Monday at 12:30 p.m., just before the worst of the storm was set to hit the Island, to hear the latest weather report.
Preparations for the storm began Friday, with boats being taken out of the water and tree companies busy at work. Over the course of the weekend, demand for emergency supplies grew, and Stop and Shop stores stayed open until midnight on Sunday. Shirley’s hardware in Vineyard Haven ordered a special shipment of batteries and was open for business on Sunday as well.
The Steamship Authority cancelled ferry service to the Vineyard beginning Sunday evening and service remained shut down all day on Monday. The Chappaquiddick Ferry was also shut down on Monday, although the small ferry was available to run in an emergency if necessary.
Trees fell around the Island, and roads from Tisbury to Edgartown were closed because of flooding. By 8:30 Monday morning, well before high tide, onlookers gathered outside the Edgartown Yacht Club to take pictures of the water flooding Dock street.
Across the way at the Dock Street Diner, about five people sat the counter, with others waiting for to-go orders. Mary Sobel said the diner would stay open until high tide.
They did have to make do without one cook, whose mother wouldn’t let him come to work.
With schools, government offices and most businesses closed, the more adventuresome Islanders took advantage of the day off to go out and watch and photograph the storm in some places. On Tuesday hardy surfers gathered at south shore beaches to take advantage of the high surf. Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation properties weathered the storm, director Adam Moore said, a new addition to the Little Beach property in Edgartown appeared after the storm when a breach at Eel Pond created a small new island.
“We think it will make for some very good bird habitat especially for the tern colonies that nest there,” Mr. Moore said. “It’s a natural occurrence and kind of exciting.”