GLOUCESTER — Gov. Charlie Baker and state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester climbed the Stage Fort Park seawall to get a better look at the pull of the waves, but they got a closer look than they were hoping for. The politicians endured the sheer force of a wave that came up over the seawall, soaking them from the waist down.
The surge was a stark reminder of the impact that the nor’easter had as it slammed into Cape Ann over the weekend.
After declaring a state of emergency Saturday, Baker met with local officials to survey damage from the storm and discuss recovery efforts during his visit to Gloucester Sunday. He toured around the city starting with the School Street Fire Station, moving to Stacy Boulevard and then finishing at Stage Fort Park.
“It’s pretty clear that we have a lot of work to do here,” Baker said. “This was clearly a relatively unique event. We said coming in that we thought this could be worse than January 4th and I think, pretty clearly for a lot of communities, it was.”
Though it’s too soon for a cost estimate of the devastation, Baker said officials are working both on the state and local levels to gather information and get those numbers, for both immediate and long-term damage.
The long list of areas devastated by the storm keeps getting longer, according to Fire Chief Eric Smith, whose serving as the city’s emergency management director. Damage can be seen all over Gloucester including Lanes Cove, flooding at the Washington Street causeway and the bulkhead at the Stacy Boulevard Blynman Canal.
“It really hit us almost from all directions with the wave energy. We’re not used to seeing that kind of wave energy in the harbor,” Smith said. “That’s problematic — obviously it’s doing significant damage to some pretty heavy pieces of granite that just don’t move around that easily.”
The connection between the river and the harbor that was damaged on Stacy Boulevard is not part of the new seawall construction tackled within the last two years. The damaged section is part of the original construction, which Public Works Director Mike Hale estimates has not been updated since World War II.
Other areas that were damaged by the storm include the Cressy Beach bulkhead, the Gloucester High School stadium, private property in the area of Brier Neck Point and High Rock Terrace, a private seawall on Pavilion Beach and Brace Cove. The Magnolia Pier and Good Harbor Beach footbridge were completely lost to the storm.
There was also major flooding along Shore Road up through Hesperus Avenue, the Eastern Point and Western Avenue from numbers 127 through 151, according to Smith. There is a question of whether damage to the Back Shore is superficial or structural, however Hale said at the moment it looks superficial. Dozens of trees went down throughout the city, according to Hale, and National Grid has demobilized their presence in the city.
“A full assessment on all this has yet to be done,” Hale said. “We’re still in that process.”
Many residents and local business owners were either still dealing with or had just gotten past the repercussions of the blizzard on Jan. 4, only to have storm flooding return less than two months later. Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken met with the National Guard and the harbormaster two weeks ago to prepare for future storms after having experienced the blizzard at the start of the year, but their proactive approach was no match for Friday’s nor’easter.
“I don’t think anyone’s prepared. Mother Nature does not prepare you,” Romeo Theken said. “We have to worry about building walls now – no pun intended – we need to build a wall in Gloucester.”
Officials are concerned with the upcoming weather forecast for this week, which shows another possible nor’easter heading this way.
“One storm was bad enough, two was devastating and the prospect of a third...” Tarr said, “That’s what we’re starting to face. These are repetitive events and they have accumulative effect on our infrastructure, our manpower and our resources.”
Smith will be on a Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency call Monday afternoon as the governor’s office begins to weigh the damages and determine if Gloucester’s situation warrants a disaster designation, which is determined by certain required thresholds set by Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The process moves pretty quickly in that direction once (Baker) feels confident enough in the damages to warrant going to the federal government to request a disaster designation and the resources it brings forward,” Smith said. He added that declaring a state of emergency, which Baker did on Saturday, is usually an indicator that he’s reaching a decision.
In the meantime, the city’s emergency departments will continue to assess and document damages all over the city in order to present accurate data as they attempt to get state and or federal funding. Hale emphasized the significant role that residents have in obtaining that information. “If you see it, report it,” he said.
Mary Markos may be contacted at 978-675-2708 or email@example.com.