, Newburyport, MA

March 9, 2013

'Where's our beach? It's gone!'

Salisbury loses tremendous amount of sand; storm uncovers old buildings

By Angeljean Chiaramida
Staff Writer

---- — SALISBURY — As the ferocious storm tide receded yesterday around noon, one by one Salisbury’s faithful trekked up Broadway to check on the beach they love so much, and their reaction was always the same: shock.

“Oh my God,” one gentleman gasped. “Where’s our beach? It’s gone!”

The sight was stark at the end of Broadway, as the beach dropped off precipitously from where it once graded gently down to the sea. Wooden pilings, buried for decades under yards of beach, now stick up like spikes feet above the sand. And a jagged, rusty metal foundation is now an exposed curiosity, surrounded by chunks of concrete and other debris.

For hours yesterday morning, thousands of huge waves pummeled Salisbury Beach like 10-ton sledgehammers, pounding dunes to nothing. The velocity of the surf, as well as its height and volume, was no match for what was left of the miles of sacrificial dunes that had already given their best to the Blizzard of 2013, only a month ago.

Thankfully, according to Salisbury’s Emergency Management Director Bob Cook, no structures were lost to the storm tides that struck Thursday and Friday. Many in town feel fortunate for that in light of the damage left behind on Plum Island, where a house was lost, and others were so undermined they’re in jeopardy.

But Cook added a warning.

“People really need to stay off the beach and what’s left of the dunes,” he said. “It’s just too unsafe; the dunes are very, very dangerous.”

Homes along Salisbury’s Atlantic Avenue have often taken a beating during storm events, when erosion threatened structures there. The series of tides did affect the area, for snow fencing installed only five days prior is gone, said resident Don Egan. But this time round, he said, other parts along Salisbury’s shore took a harder hit than the south end of the beach.

His home is located at the far end of Atlantic Avenue, Egan said. Looking farther south to Salisbury Beach State Reservation, he believes 10 feet of dunes may have been lost.

“I’ve never seen the receding of the dunes at the reservation this bad,” Egan said. “And this is the worst I’ve ever seen the north end of the beach.”

Similar to the impact of February’s blizzard, as high tide hit Friday morning, areas of North End Boulevard were scoured by the sea.

By 6:58 a.m. — an hour and a half prior to peak high tide — waves were washing over dunes, bringing seawater streaming between homes and onto North End Boulevard in the area of the mid-two hundred block. Shortly after, waves crashed over the snow fencing, sweeping across Ocean Front South.

On roadways, signs of the ocean’s power were everywhere, as pieces of snow fencing and boardwalks lay twisted on the pavement, deposited by waves gone wild.

Police blocked off Broadway early yesterday, stopping storm watchers from getting too close to the boiling ocean at about 8 a.m.

Emergency officials, with the help of the Methuen’s Army National Guard, blocked off Beach Road by 8:30 at the entrance to Salisbury Beach State Reservation. The tide-filled salt marsh had overflowed its banks, covering the road to a level so deep it was considered hazardous to travel.

Broadway and Driftway, two beach access areas where wash-overs often occur, were saved by preventative measures taken Thursday by Public Works officials. According to DPW foreman Ray Cody, nine huge truckloads of beach sand were purchased by the town and used to build 8-foot berms at the head of both roads.

The berms kept the sea from inundating Salisbury Beach Center on Thursday night, but the tide took its toll, he said. The berms had to be rebuilt for Friday morning’s event.

Further inland, orange cones and a Salisbury police van greeted travelers on Ferry Road during the tide’s peak, when high water filled the wetlands to overflowing, closing off one lane of travel.