EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 9, 2013

Storm pounds Plum Island, undermines homes

By Mac Cerullo
Staff writer

---- — Plum Island suffered significant beach erosion, and it's unclear whether at least one house on Annapolis Way in the Newbury section can be saved in the wake of the blizzard of 2013.

While much of the island appears to have weathered the storm without major destruction, homes on Annapolis Way have been hit the hardest.

The already precarious Nee family house at 37 Annapolis Way was further compromised by the pounding waves and onshore wind, losing its slab concrete basement and the last piece of its side deck, according to Newbury Building Inspector Sam Joslin.

"What we've had at the Nee house is waves got up over the sand bag system in place and have taken the basement floor out," Joslin said, explaining that sand barriers in place were not enough to protect the concrete slab, which washed away with the tide surge.

With the collapse of the concrete slabs, water began blowing into the home around high tide at 10 a.m., washing some of the family's personal belongings, including furniture and clothing, out with the sea.

In addition, Joslin said northeast winds caught the side deck of the home for a while, weakening it.

"Once (the deck) got the waves hitting it, it made short work of it and took it down," Joslin said.

Electrical power as well as water and sewer service have been cut to the Nee house, deeming it uninhabitable, Joslin said.

"There's a slight lean to the building. We'll have it evaluated by an engineer and see what if anything we can do to save it," Joslin said.

Two houses over, at 41 Annapolis Way, the front patio was also all but ripped off in the storm.

Both homes were unoccupied.

Joslin said the increased winds coming from the northeast with the storm Saturday morning dramatically whipped up the ocean at Plum Island. There are reports that the beach has lost 20 feet of sand in the storm.

Debris from damaged homes and stakes used to hold the massive coir bag system in place is whipping in the wind. Once low tide arrives around 4:30 a.m. Saturday, residents and emergency workers are expected to work to clear the debris to prevent them from becoming damaging projectiles.

As high tide rolled in late Saturday morning, giant waves battered Plum Island and flooded numerous roads, capping off a brutal blizzard that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on some parts of the island.

As of noon, none of the four houses on Annapolis Way that were considered vulnerable due to damage from December's big storm had been lost, although Newbury officials said several of the houses had suffered extensive damage and it wouldn’t be clear until later if the houses could be saved.

“It’s absolute mayhem out there,” said Bob Connors of 39 Annapolis Way. “The water is coming right up to the houses.”

Emergency workers closed Annapolis at around 10:20 a.m. and wouldn’t let anybody in after the waves began to flood the street. Prior to that, Newbury’s building inspector said that the Batchelder residence at 35 Annapolis Way had its gas tank pulled off the house by the surf.

The sandbags that were put up in advance of the storm reportedly provided some protection, but not much, he said.

"We've got 20-foot seas crashing in causing flooding and some structural damage to some homes that sustained damage in the last storm," Connors told Channel 5 News at 9:30 a.m. this morning.

"In my 33 years, I haven't seen the seas this high or rough. It certainly is not a place to be going for curiosity-seekers."

The National Guard is mobilized, Connors said, but there is nothing that emergency workers can do until after the tides subside.

The beach center access was closed off to the public shortly after Annapolis Way was, and after high tide, the water rose high enough to flood Plum Island Turnpike with nearly 6 inches of slushy water and debris.

Connors said he was unaware of any evacuations from homes and it is believed power has remained on across the island. However, access to the island was restricted to residents and emergency personnel for a time.

Residents reported significant flooding near the north point on the Newburyport side of the island at the mouth of the Merrimack River as well, particularly by the basin where one resident said the water was coming right up to the porch.

Between the water and the waist-high snowbanks, moving around the island became extremely difficult by 11 a.m., prompting some residents to break out their cross-country skis to get around.

As the tide was still rising, police urged curious residents to stay away from the dunes, but at one point before the beach center was closed, a big wave came up and washed two people who were trying to take pictures down across the parking lot and into the road more than 40 feet away.