NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 7, 2013

Bracing for the worst

Officials expecting most severe coastal damage this season

By Angeljean Chiaramida
STAFF WRITER

---- — 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.

“That’s pretty nasty,” Cook said. “They’re saying this is going to be worse that any other storm this year.”

Cook said properties subject to the evacuation are in the areas of Central and Atlantic avenues, as well as along North End Boulevard, especially in the 400 block, which was unexpectedly hit hard during February’s blizzard.

Salisbury, with the assistance of the Red Cross, opened an emergency shelter for evacuees at 8 p.m. yesterday at the Hilton Senior Center on Route 1 next to the fire station. The shelter will remain open throughout the evacuation order to assist anyone in the area affected by coastal flooding.

Residents are advised to bring with them to the shelter whatever they may need to be comfortable, Cook said.

In Newbury, town officials and property owners on Plum Island have been on high alert since before Hurricane Sandy hit. Conservation agent Doug Packer said people were diligently working to protect their beachfront, which has suffered severely in recent years.

Packer said the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Severe Weather Emergency Declaration is still in effect, which has allowed special measures to be taken along the shoreline. The town is working with homeowners to protect properties exposed to the wind, waves, rain and snow, he said.

Yesterday, workers from NETCO Construction Project Managers were on Plum Island installing long coir bags to act as buffers for raging seas. Town officials also will be at a command post at the shore monitoring and responding to whatever comes over the next couple days.

Packer said the longer this storm takes in arriving, the higher the tides will grow, as the winds push ocean waters into shore. That’s of special concern, he said, since the tides were already high yesterday.

“What we’re hearing is that Plum Island should add at least 2 feet to whatever you hear tides could be,” he said.

Packer’s comment about the impact of this storm was echoed by Surf Forecasting for northernsurfer.com, an online service advising surfers of conditions.

A number of weather factors, including the slow-moving nature of the storm and its confluence with other emerging weather events, could conspire to drive a lot of water toward the coast, sending penetrating waves onto shores at high tides into Saturday.

Given such reports, Newbury resident and surfer Michael Morris believes the region hasn’t “seen a storm of this duration and intensity for some time.”

Packer offered this precaution to thrill-seekers and surfers who like to visit beaches when the ocean is at its angriest.

“My advice is for people to stay safe and stay off the beaches,” Packer said. “During these times, it’s really dangerous out there.”

STORM SAFETY

Newburyport officials issued these winter storm safety tips from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency:

Make homes and businesses ready for periods of power outages and high winds.

Stay up to date on weather information from the National Weather Service or other media sources

Know your community’s methods to warn you, if evacuation is necessary, as well as flood evacuation routes, potential public shelters and where to find higher ground.

Test sump pumps. If possible, have a backup power source.

Minimize damage from basement flooding by elevating materials that could be damaged by water.

Anchor fuel tanks to ensure they do not wash away, creating a safety and environmental issue inside or outside the home.

Download MEMA’s free ping4alerts for iPhones and Androids and follow MEMA on Facebook and Twitter.

The Daily News’ will look to update emergency alerts issued by local officials on its website at www.newburyportnews.com.