By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
A North Kingstown Department of Public Works employee narrowly escaped serious injury when the vehicle he’d driven to the scene of a downed tree was crushed by another falling tree.
A Jamestown woman, who couldn’t reach a neighborhood near Mackerel Cove because police had the road blocked, drove as far as she could and parked. When she returned she found that surging water had crossed the road, sweeping her car into Sheffield Cove.
In Exeter, the wind brought high tension wires down across residential service lines causing residents of a house near the RI Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery to say they felt a sensation of electricity running through the house.
These are examples of the effects of Hurricane Sandy as it swept through our area. High winds wreaked havoc with trees and power lines; a remarkable storm surge – on top of a moon high tide — caused significant flooding along the North Kingstown coastal areas.
Early Monday, as the wind began blowing leaves and small branches across the road some things seemed normal and others did not.
Most businesses were closed except for supermarkets, pharmacy chains, bars, a few restaurants and stores such as Kingstown Liquor Mart, on Post Road, which was doing a brisk business.
As the day advanced with strong winds whipping whitecaps against the rocks, two coastal neighborhoods – Shore Acres off Camp Avenue and Hamilton-Allenton – had few windows boarded up.
At the end of Buena Vista Drive, however, waves had leaped over the stone seawall
and formed a pond that was creeping into the roadway. By Tuesday, the town building inspector had condemned a
little cluster of houses near the beach, including a former bait shop, because the water had made it inside.
The neighborhood also experienced a power outage.
Wind damage was felt at Quonset where, in mid-afternoon Monday, Custom Design, at 370 Commerce Park, had the top portion of a three-layer roof – a vinyl-like membrane - peel back. Although it had exposed part of the wood underneath, a spokesman said, “We have a few leaks but we’re in good shape.”
The same could not be said for one of the original concrete buildings that was once part of the Navy base. Building E-319, leased by Electric Boat for use as a warehouse, was giving up its roof in a relentless assault. A pile of asphalt sheeting lay heaped alongside the structure, debris was strewn across the road and the wind was lifting another section which seemed to be waving for help.
On Monday, NK police began blocking roads leading into Wickford in early afternoon; 10 residents were evacuated from the village, two from Washington Street and eight from Pleasant Street.
DPW director Phil Bergeron said water two-feet deep filled the streets of Wickford while, in the municipal parking lot, the harbor overflowed, reaching the height of the boardwalk adjoining Beach Rose Café and topping the sandbags around the Town Hall Annex.
“It was the worst I’ve seen in 15 years. Longtime residents said it was the worst they’d ever seen.” The surge peaked at 7:30 p.m., he said, and when the wind began to die down the water levels began dropping.
According to Bergeron, some electrical boxes that power street lights on Brown and Main streets were partly under water and need replacing. He added that although water seeped into an office in the basement of the Town Hall Annex, crews were able to “clean the mess up” on Tuesday.
Six major roads in the north end and off Tower Hill Road were closed Monday but National Grid tree and electrical crews worked with DPW employees to clear roads of trees entangled with power lines.
By noon Tuesday, the director said, Austin, Lafayette and Shermantown roads, Mount View Avenue and Church Way were open but Potter Road was blocked in two places. “Some residents were trapped on Potter.”
The situation in the north end affected school operations. In a statement, Superintendent Phil announced that school would resume everywhere Wednesday except the SMH Quidnessett Elementary School. It remained closed because power was out in the neighborhood and National Grid was unsure when it would be restored.
Auger promised to send daily updates.
Bergeron said the closest call involved his own man. After responding to the report of a downed tree on Fletcher Road, “the driver left the vehicle and seconds later [another tree] fell, crushing his side of the vehicle. He could have been seriously injured or worse.”
Although there were power outages which, traditionally, residents find extremely annoying – statewide, some 95,000 were still without power on Tuesday – Bergeron said he was glad to see that on National Grid’s list of hardest-hit communities “we were not in the top 10. We were very fortunate.”
According to Stefan Coutoulakis, Exeter’s emergency management director, there was “a lot of tree damage and power disruption” with 2,300 still without power on Tuesday. First responders were able to handle all the calls coming in. “Those guys at DPW are my heroes,” he added. Crews had opened 90 percent of the roads by late Monday. “They’ve been working all through the night and they’re still out there.”
Sgt. Keith Woodbine of the Jamestown police said on Tuesday the usual things happened: “The water went up; it went back down. The power went out. A woman parked her car and when she came back it was in Sheffield Cove.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is a freelance writer for SRIN.