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The Calm Before the Storm: Matunuck residents evacuate

August 29, 2011

A resident of Matunuck Beach Trailer Association prepares to evacuate his home along Matunuck Beach Road. The South Shore of South Kingstown, including Matunuck Beach Road were the first to get a mandatory evacuation notice Friday afternoon. Photo by Kathleen McKiernan


SOUTH KINGSTOWN - Early Friday morning Matunuck Beach Road residents awoke to the inevitable.


Winds of 105 mph across the East Coast. A flood watch with five to 10 inches of rainfall expected. Strong, damaging gusts along with coastal flooding. A storm surge striking at high tide.


As of early Friday morning, the predicted path placed Irene crossing over central Long Island mid-morning Sunday and central Massachusetts mid-afternoon Sunday.

It all meant one thing to residents along the South Shore coast line in South Kingstown, including Matunuck Beach Road: time to board up, pack up and get out, a typical routine these residents are used to.


By mid afternoon, Friday, Governor Lincoln Chafee declared an immediate state of emergency in anticipation of Hurricane Irene.


The Department of Environmental Management announced that all state beaches will be closed on Sunday, Aug. 28 and public access to these areas would be restricted. State campgrounds were also closed at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 when a mandatory evacuation would take place.


In Narragansett, the town issued at mandatory evacuation notice at 3:30 Friday for all low-lying areas to be completed by 10 am Sunday, Aug. 28. Evacuation areas included Great Island, Harbor Island, Sand Hill Cove, Jerusalem, Breakwater Village and Bonnet Shores. The town notified residents that the emergency shelter at the Narragansett High School would open 6 am Sunday.


In Charlestown, the town ordered a voluntary evacuation from Route 1A south. The evacuation was mandatory for residences located on the beach and pond waterfronts and took place from 5 p.m Friday to 5 p.m. Saturday.


Evacuation notices did not end there. In South Kingstown, a mandatory evacuation notice was issued by the town for no later than 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 28. The town ordered residents to seek shelter away from the South Shore coast line and low lying areas near Narrow River with the emergency shelter set up at the South Kingstown High School, available Sunday at 8 a.m.


The evacuation is necessary for their safety,” South Kingstown Town Manager Stephen A. Alfred said Friday afternoon. “People keep calling asking why they are being evacuated, saying they’re on higher grounds. The notices are for people within not only harm’s way of the ocean itself, but homes that will have no public safety access. If the public safety equipment can’t get to their houses, we’re asking them to leave.”


As of Friday, Alfred said the town had about 185 cotts ready at the high school with food and internet connection available. South Kingstown was set for the storm, with each department ready with their own tasks. Alfred said the public service department’s first priority would be to clear the main roads and secondary roads as soon as possible. Alfred’s concern was after the storm if trees fell down on wires. Alfred said the town would have to wait for National Grid to turn off the power to remove the trees.


With evacuation orders loud and clear, South Kingstown residents did not waste any time preparing for Irene’s fury. Early Friday morning, gas stations and food markets were jamming with people buying fuel, bread and water. At the Wakefield Shopping Center, Belmont Market customers filled the parking lot.


We ran out of water [Thursday] and got six pallets last night. Now we’re out again. The battery rack is stripped,” Nicole Schiller, an employee at Belmont Market said.

On Main Street, Wakefield Auto Repair had lines of cars backing into the traffic all Friday morning.


We’re slightly busy. Have you noticed?” employee Tim MacRae joked. “We did $1,000 in the first two hours. We’ve been very busy all morning.”


Along Matunuck Beach Road, at noontime Friday, residents were boarding up their summer beach homes at Carpenter’s Beach Meadow and the Matunuck Beach Trailer Association residents were hitting the road.


We’ll deal with this in the same manner we’ve done in the past. We simply start without elderly and handicapped residents and make sure they have a place to go and continue with the remainder of residents and we insist they follow the directive of the town manager,” Lisa Karin, secretary for Carpenter’s Beach Meadow said.


At three o’clock, I’ll be getting ready to leave,” Bill Camille, who works at Carpenter’s Beach Meadow said. “I’ll board up the house when I get out of work, shut of my gas and electric.”


This is the third time. During Hurricane Bob, I got thrown out. This is normal for me. Every time, I come down here, I get thrown out,” he added.


Andrea Ferreira planned to retreat to her year round residence in Warwick, mainly so she could go school on Monday for work.


We’ve been through this with Hurricanes Bob and Gloria,” Ferreira, whose had a home at Matunuck since 1978 said. “We’ve been through a lot of evacuations. I do them all, wait and see.


I’m anxious now. I think it’ll be what they anticipate. It’ll be worse than we’ve ever felt before and we’ve been here for 12 years,” Brenda Schultz said as she and her husband, Mark boarded up their house.


Robert Mallard, who’s been through past hurricanes as well, was skeptical of the storm’s forecast.


It’s not going to do anything. They’re throwing us out. It’s not particularly that bad of a storm. This place survives. We went through a lot of storms. I’m worried about the [Ocean Mist] because the storm has got to get through that to get to us,” Mallard said.


Across the street at the Ocean Mist Bar, bartender Jack Hanley said they’re heeding all the evacuation warnings and prepared for the storm by utilizing their best product; beer.


We ordered more beer and kegs to weigh the place down,” Hanley said. “There’s nothing you can do. We moved out the juke boxes and pool tables.”


Hanley said the bar would be open Saturday as long as the town allowed them to, but later Friday the town ordered the Ocean Mist to close by 2 p.m. Saturday.


At the Matunuck Beach Trailer Association, residents were reluctant, but expecting.


We’re moving out to higher ground. It’s a smart thing. We do it when we think it’s necessary. Mother nature is just stronger than man,” one resident, who did not want to give his name said.



Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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