NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 11, 2013

On Salisbury Beach, storm wields a surprise blow

By Dave Rogers and Lynne Hendricks
Staff Writers

---- — SALISBURY BEACH — Most of the 46 North End Boulevard and Central Avenue residents were back in their houses yesterday after being evacuated from their homes and motel rooms Saturday morning due to coastal flooding related to the Blizzard of 2013.

Displaced residents, some in the scoop of a front-end loader, were rescued from their homes and stayed at the Hilton Senior Center on Lafayette Road until officials allowed them back in their homes Saturday evening.

The news wasn’t as good for Glenn and Jackie Guilmette of 240 North End Blvd., who remained with nearby relatives after a giant wave smashed through several of their home’s oceanfront windows, causing significant damage. The town’s building inspector quickly deemed the building uninhabitable and the Guilmettes were only allowed to re-enter their home to retrieve some belongings under the supervision of a local firefighter.

Glenn Guilmette said he was standing near the windows around 8:30 a.m. when the wave smashed through the glass, throwing him off his feet and perhaps knocking him unconscious.

“Knocked me on my ass, good times,” Guilmette said yesterday, as he and friends were shoveling snow.

His wife, Jackie, said she was upstairs just getting out of the shower when she heard a giant explosion downstairs. By the time she raced down the steps, her husband was under water with a table on top of him and their dog, Baxter had been washed into the kitchen area several yards away. Jackie Guilmette was able to call for help, revive her dazed husband and collect their dog before exiting their home.

“We’re alive, we have each other, everybody is fine,” Jackie Guilmette said.

The powerful wave caught the Guilmettes off-guard seeing that the astronomically high tide was scheduled to hit the area around 10 a.m., not at 8:30 a.m. The night before, police had sent out a Code Red phone blast to 1,000 beach-area households informing them of the impending high tide and to consider leaving the area.

By the end of the evening Saturday, even those whose homes had sustained minor damage were able to return to their digs and start cleaning up from the storm.

Janet Schofield of 250 North End Blvd. heeded the Code Red announcement and left around noontime Friday. She came back Sunday morning to find 7- to 8-foot snowdrifts behind her house. Schofield said the only thing that kept her house from falling prey to the same waves that damaged nearby homes was a large sand dune.

“That’s what saved my house; other than that, the water would have been in my apartment,” said Schofield, who has lived at the same residence for 32 years.

The same scene to various degrees was played out in houses up and down the road that links Salisbury Beach to Seabrook Beach and beyond. Around 10 a.m. Edward Bemis and his wife, Nancy, were caught in a monster wave that crashed through their sliding glass door.

On Central Avenue, guests at Michael’s Ocean Front Motel were evacuated after the motel’s manager, Robin Weistenstein, received a phone call from emergency responders around 9 a.m. with an urgent evacuation order. After waking her son and her two grandchildren who were staying with her, she opened the door to her basement apartment and saw seawater seeping down a long staircase into the office area. Along with her relatives, two families and two single guests left the building and were placed in a shuttle bus that took them to the Hilton Senior Center. There they stayed until receiving word around 6 p.m. that it was safe to return to the motel.

Weistenstein said yesterday that the water was able to make its way through a beach access point with little hindrance. Following her return to the motel, a friend with a Snowcat plugged up the access point with snow.

With the high tide yet to approach on Saturday morning and fearful that more houses would suffer the same fate as the Guilmettes, Salisbury emergency units began calling hundreds of residents telling them it would be in their best interest to leave. With help from the National Guard, about 46 people were evacuated. Many others decided to ride the storm out in their homes, according to police Chief Thomas Fowler.

The Guilmettes have been relocated to a building across the street from their home, which Cook said was as good a solution as could be expected.

“They had the opportunity to go right into an adjacent property right in front of their home, so it worked,” said Emergency Operations director Robert Cook. “Everyone (else) got to go back to their own homes. We’re very fortunate. We didn’t expect that to happen — believe me. I was trying to put preparation in place for the shelter to stay open for two to three days because I couldn’t imagine being able to get the people back in that quickly. The state was able to get a couple of teams out here on very short notice.”

It was a pleasant surprise for Cook. “I made the request and within an hour and a half they (the state inspectors) were here,” said Cook. “That was amazing. They made everything run more smoothly.”

Flooding also affected Salisbury Beach center as seawater shot down Broadway and coated the surrounding roads with several inches of water. The water quickly receded but left debris on multiple streets.

Yesterday, as temperatures reached the 40s and the sun came out, several cars were seen parked in the beach area and many people armed with cameras and surfboards were seen.

“All the planning we did prior to the storm help it go smoothly, even though we had to evacuate some people,” Fowler said.

“We’re in good shape,” he said. “Compared to the South Shore we’re in very good shape. They’ve got a lot of problems down there.”

Cook credits the early preparation for the storm, which brought together fire and police departments, the National Guard and ambulance services that all worked together to monitor the beachfront and transport evacuees to the Hilton Senior Center, for things running as smoothly as possible during the blizzard. He gave special thanks to those agencies, and to Ellen and Todd Kopp, who manned the temporary shelter from Friday and Saturday, cooking meals and providing a welcome space for the 45 residents forced to leave their homes under emergency Code Red evacuation orders Saturday.

“They called me Friday morning and offered to help in any way they could,” he said. “They’d never done anything like this before. We gave them all the guidelines for a shelter and they did a wonderful job. I just can’t thank them enough.”

Cook said while his department seeks to inform residents of the dangers of every storm, there are often times when the precautions turn out to be for naught. The Blizzard of 2013, he said, was not one of those storms.

“This storm lived up to its potential,” he said.