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Matunuck ravaged by Sandy

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Posted: Thursday, November 1, 2012 12:45 pm

MATUNUCK — A day after Hurricane Sandy thrashed the beachfront property her family has owned for three generations, an exhausted Nancy Thoresen trudged through the debris at Roy Carpenter’s Beach.

She wore a yellow rain slicker, a denim dress and galoshes, and said – aside from Hurricane Carol in 1954 – she’s never seen the coastal colony receive the pummeling Hurricane Sandy brought to Roy’s on Monday.

Downed utility poles and electrical wires lay strewn in the sandy grass, and a set of three wooden steps sat upended in the muddy sand. An overturned picnic table, six inches of sand and scattered debris littered the area between the first two rows of cottages.

“What a mess. I don’t even know where to begin,” said Thoresen, whose family manages the summer community.

The visuals were devastating, but Thoresen said perhaps the most troubling was what she could no longer see: the three front row cottages sucked into Block Island Sound Monday evening.

“This is the most severe that I’ve seen in a very long time, certainly in my recollection,” said Town Manager Stephen A. Alfred, Tuesday evening.

At Roy’s, the damage wasn’t limited to the three cottages swept into the drink. A half-dozen more front-row cottages were blasted, and teetered on the edge of a ledge carved out by Sandy. The entire wall of one cottage was ripped away, allowing a cross-section view into the home, as if it were a macabre post-hurricane version of Barbie’s Dream House.

“It’s mind-boggling. I don’t think it’s fully sunken in,” said Thoresen.

Mike Marran, whose family has owned the cottage in the second row – directly behind one that was lost – remembers the lawn that used to separate the two houses. “Now we’ve got a few feet,” said Marran, who has summered at Roy’s for 50 years.

In the aftermath of Sandy, Roy’s and the rest of Matunuck were a hive of activity.

While police directed traffic, residents milled in the streets surveying the damage. Governor Chafee, formerly a Matunuck man himself – his family opted to tear down the home they built among the Browning Cottages – toured the community and U.S. Congressman James Langevin visited Tara’s Tipperary Tavern around 2 p.m. A Weather Channel meteorologist also did a live national broadcast from the general store at Roy’s.

But for Thoresen and her family, the first orders of business were working with National Grid to deal with the downed wires in the campground and to determine a strategy to remove or relocate the damaged front row houses.

“We’re worried about the power lines if the power goes on, with all these people wandering around down here,” said Thoresen.

The damage wasn’t limited to Roy Carpenter’s.

East of Roy’s the pavilion at the Town Beach hung perilously over the sand after being smacked with heavy surf and high winds generated by Sandy.

Carpenter’s Beach Meadow on Matunuck Beach Road suffered significant flooding, and many residents remained without power Tuesday afternoon.

Several of the five Browning Cottages, the last of the historic Victorian-era cottages perched on the edge of Matunuck’s beach, were ripped apart. (See photo, A3.)

Inside Tara’s Tipperary Tavern on Matunuck Beach Road Tuesday afternoon, light was sparse, save for sunlight beaming through an orange, white and green flag of Ireland hanging in the doorway.

Past hurricanes have swept through the pub. When Sandy blasted through the rear of the building, she collapsed a concrete staircase, the back deck and wooden walkways leading to four rental properties surrounding the bar. The residents of the single year-round unit evacuated.

“It was pretty intimidating,” said owner Fran O’Brien, who, with co-owner Tara Mulroy, worked with staff Tuesday to clear the knee-high debris on the concrete floor of the old pub. A pile of sand, scrap and wood was dumped outside the door to the bar, presumably removed using the wheelbarrow and two snow shovels leaning on a wall inside the bar.

“We came in around 11 a.m., and it wasn’t very nice,” said Mulroy. “But while we were working, everybody going by asked us, ‘Do ya need help?’”

The kitchen, bar and plumbing systems survived unscathed, O’Brien said, but builders will need to install a second means of egress in the rear of the building before the tavern can reopen.

“I guess it’s the stubborn Irish in me, but we are not going anywhere,” Mulroy said. “Whatever we have to do to get the place back up and running, we will do it. And we will do it in short order.”

Next door, the Ocean Mist, though still closed, was bustling. Workers removed plywood from a pickup truck outside the bar and stacked it against a wall inside the bar.

Despite persistent rumors of the O-Mist’s destruction during the height of the storm, only a window, a door and a stairway were lost to Sandy.

“We’re lucky. Nothing structural,” said owner Kevin Finnegan, who had been at the beachside bar since 6 a.m. Tuesday.

“You can see it. It’s the same old place,” said Finnegan. “There’s a little extra work. We’re going to be closed for a couple of days, so we’re going to remodel the bathroom,” said Finnegan. “We’re kind of just doing the work while we’ve got an opportunity to do it.”

During the height of the storm, he remained in a safe location nearby, texting other property owners with updates on the damage.

“Kevin was great,” said O’Brien.

“I’m sure if they were here and I wasn’t, I’m sure they’d be texting me. I just happened to be here,” said Finnegan.

On Tuesday, staff cleaned the bar and tossed food inventory damaged by the loss of power.

“I’ve never seen a storm like this. It’s weird, we’ve had less damage from this than others, I don’t know why,” said Finnegan.

He got back into the bar around 9:15 Monday night. A Facebook post announcing the bar had survived generated 2,000 ‘likes.’

“Call it karma, praying, rooting for you, whatever you want. I believe we felt it. All the people rooting for us maybe put a force field around us or something,” he said.

Both bars were without power Tuesday afternoon, and will remain closed for at least the next few days, until the building official’s staff inspects them.

On Tuesday, Town Manager Stephen A. Alfred said the town’s immediate focus is ensuring public safety and assessing the damage across town. The state Coastal Resources Management Council, which approved a 202-foot sea wall west of the Ocean Mist, said field workers will survey the damage and report their findings. Until that point, CRMC Spokeswoman Laura Dwyer said it is unclear the severity of the damage, and too early to determine what, if any, impact the damage would have on the crafting of a policy to manage erosion across the state.

But the damage from Hurricane Sandy leaves more questions than answers for Thoresen and others.

Last year, the family floated a proposal to move the first two rows on the east side to the cornfield behind row 18. The cottage owners, who own their cottages, but lease land from the Thoresens, received an outline for the plan.

Thoresen said the family will soon be in contact with town officials to discuss next steps, with the goal of keeping the remaining 367 cottages on the property.

“I’m nervous. I’m scared about what’s going to happen,” said Thoresen. “There are some huge questions.”

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