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March 7, 2013

Bracing for the worst

Officials expecting most severe coastal damage this season

With forecasters predicting today’s storm to unleash more coastal destruction than has been seen all season, Salisbury officials took no chances yesterday, issuing a mandatory emergency evacuation order for all oceanfront residents.

The emergency action went into effect last night through a Code Red alert to affected residents and will continue through at least tomorrow night.

And Newbury officials, concerned that flooding may make Plum Island Turnpike — the main thoroughfare on and off the island — impassible, last night issued a Code Red alert to all residents there that will also continue through tomorrow’s high tide.

Town Administrator Tracy Blais said officials are warning east-facing residents to be especially vigilant, as the tides could become dangerous very quickly.

No evacuation on Plum Island had been ordered as of last night, but emergency management personnel were on the island monitoring conditions and were prepared to open a shelter should one become necessary.

For days, an angry blast of winter’s worst has blown across the country, dumping heavy snow from North Dakota to Philadelphia. The National Weather Service has issued coastal flood warnings through 10 a.m. tomorrow for all north- and east-facing shores because of expected high winds, storm surges and tides.

Although New England isn’t expected to endure record snow amounts — the risk for 6 to 12 inches of heavy wet snow is expected across eastern Massachusetts — those along the local coasts of Newbury, Newburyport, Salisbury and the Seacoast are once again praying the accompanying high winds and waves don’t wipe out what’s left of their shoreline and send homes tumbling into the seas.

According to Salisbury Emergency Management director Bob Cook, the town ordered the evacuation in light of predictions that during high tides, the storm could bring 30- to 35-foot waves on top of 3- to 3 1/2-foot storm surges. Tonight’s high tide on Salisbury Beach is at 7:48 and tomorrow morning’s comes in at 8:11.

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