Cities and towns in coastal York County were cleaning up and assessing damage Monday as remnants of a relentless nor’easter pounded the Maine coast for a fourth day.
Through the weekend, surging high tides and wind-driven waves tore through rock sea walls, washed away dunes and roads, and damaged dozens of homes and businesses. In York, the angry Atlantic revealed a nearly 200-year-old shipwreck that had been concealed beneath Short Sands Beach.
The destructive storm rode the upper edge of a nor’easter that knocked out power to 1.8 million homes and businesses in states south of Maine. Here, the storm raged steadily offshore, churning up high winds and massive waves through more than six cycles of extremely high tides.
“It was a slow storm, so it had a decent amount of time to push those seas up and keep ’em up for an extended amount of time,” said Eric Sinsabaugh, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray.
The storm surge pushed high tides 1.5 to 2 feet above predicted levels in Portland, peaking at 13.11 feet just before noon Friday and reaching levels above 12 feet through Sunday afternoon, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“It was a really consistent, powerful storm with significant wave action. There was even a lot of wave action at low tide,” said Gayle Bowness, education program manager at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
Monday’s high tide at 1:42 p.m. was 11.64 feet – still 1.6 feet above the predicted level and just shy of flood level on the Portland waterfront, which is 11.8 feet. The tides are expected to decrease in the days ahead, but a midweek storm could bring additional beach erosion, Sinsabaugh said.
The occurrence of six consecutive flood-level high tides is a rarity comparable to the Patriot’s Day nor’easter in 2007, Bowness said. While it’s difficult to tie a specific weather event to climate change, she said the weekend storm jibes with a widely reported trend of increased flooding and extreme weather events.
‘IT’S STILL UNSAFE’
Saco City Manager Kevin Sutherland can attest to this storm’s unrelenting force. He surveyed some of the damage early Monday afternoon in the Ferry Beach neighborhood, where the foundations of two homes at the end of Fairhaven Avenue have been ravaged by waves.
“I was just down there for the seventh high tide in a row,” Sutherland said. “The wind is still so strong offshore and isn’t dying down. It’s not as bad as it was Saturday, but it’s still blowing hard and it’s still very unsafe for the public to be down there.”
Sutherland said about 15 homes in the Ferry Beach and Camp Ellis neighborhoods have been damaged by flooding, or worse. The waterfront is strewn with road signs, chunks of concrete and asphalt, tree trunks and other debris. Public works crews and other city workers have been monitoring flooded areas, assessing storm damage and even backfilling some beach erosion.
“We’ve lost the ends of several roads,” Sutherland said. “Dunes have been decimated.”
Saco department heads will meet Tuesday morning to assess the damage, begin developing a cleanup cost estimate to submit for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and plan for the nor’easter that’s forecast to start Wednesday. With severe storms expected to occur more frequently in the future, the impact on municipal budgets will be measurable but hardly predictable, Sutherland said.
“People keep asking me how we’re going to solve this,” Sutherland said. “This is Mother Nature.”
Storm damage also was extensive in Wells, where a code enforcement officer condemned a seasonal house at Eldridge Road and Webhannet Drive that was knocked off its foundation.
“The water went right through it,” said Town Manager Jonathan Carter.
Marsh water from the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve covered Mile Road multiple times during the weekend. Fencing, benches and the sea wall at Wells Beach were damaged, sections of roads washed away and a Coast Guard beacon was swept into the jetty channel.
Carter said structural engineers began inspecting the damage early Monday morning and drones might be used to get a better view of beach and marsh erosion. The jetty also will be inspected to see if it needs repairs.
Over the weekend, town crews used heavy equipment to remove sand, rocks and other storm debris from roads, but their work was hampered by onlookers who removed road barricades and drove through areas that had been closed by emergency officials, Carter said. The town will assess how to close roads more effectively in the future.
“It endangers us and them during cleanup operations,” Carter said.
SIGNIFICANT REPAIR COSTS
In Kennebunk, the storm damaged roads, sidewalks and portions of a sea wall near Middle Beach, said Town Manager Michael Pardue. Beach Avenue and parts of Surf Lane, Peninsula Drive and Boothby Road were closed to traffic.
“We weren’t surprised, but we were certainly disappointed by the amount of damage,” Pardue said.
Pardue said engineers were assessing structural damage to town property and he anticipates repair costs will be significant. Drones also will be used to get a better look at damage to roads and the sea wall.
Beaches that are normally 100 percent sand are now covered with a “fair amount of rocks,” Pardue said. Public services crews used front-end loaders to move sand that washed onto Beach Avenue into large piles and will return it to the beach after the storm that’s expected midweek.
Biddeford Public Works Director Jeff Demers said two roads – Ocean Avenue and Granite Point Road – were washed out during high tides. Ocean Avenue remained closed to traffic, while Granite Point Road was reduced to a single lane until at least Tuesday.
The storm also undermined a sea wall along Fortunes Rocks, causing it to settle about 1.5 feet. Demers said he expects that will be the most labor-intensive repair project resulting from the high seas.
“(The tide) was pretty aggressive, even today,” Demers said. “It was amazing.”
York Town Manager Stephen Burns said municipal employees are now focused on cleaning up debris and assessing damage to roads. A portion of the shoulder of Shore Road washed away, forcing the town to close the road over the weekend.
No municipal buildings were damaged, Burns said, but several feet of sand appears to have washed away from both Long Sands and Short Sands beaches. An old shipwreck that’s occasionally revealed by large storms was under at least 4 feet of sand before this storm, he said.
Kennebunkport crews were in cleanup mode Monday, but there was no major damage in town, said Town Manager Laurie Smith. There was quite a bit of flooding on Pier Road at Goose Rocks Beach, along Ocean Avenue and at Colony Beach. The town is assessing what sidewalks will need repairs and whether any private properties were damaged, she said.
In Scarborough, in Cumberland County, marsh flooding left the Clambake Seafood Restaurant entirely surrounded by ocean water. Nevertheless, the restaurant is still scheduled to open for the season on March 15.
“Meh, we’re New Englanders – just a puddle,” read a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page with a photo of water lapping at the doors.
Waves crash into houses at Camp Ellis in Saco on Monday, March 5, 2018. The neighborhood is still coping with unusually high tides three days after a major storm passed through the Gulf of Maine. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald)