'Do not ride out the storm in your home if you are told to evacuate,' a stern Mass.,Gov. Charlie Baker warned in an afternoon press conference.
(TNS) - Thursday morning saw almost spring-like weather on the South Shore, with the sun shining and temperatures approaching 60 degrees, but officials warned that the calm would not last.
Driving rain began falling Friday morning, pushed by winds expected to reach 35 mph, with gusts to 75 mph. Hurricane-force gusts up to 86 mph were possible offshore, with waves over 35 feet high.
In Scituate, Mass., on Thursday, sand flew as dozens of people filled bags that they hoped would fortify their homes against punishing 4-foot storm surges expected to destroy homes, flood neighborhoods and leave people stranded for perhaps days. Several school departments canceled classes for today while officials in Hull, Scituate, Marshfield, Cohasset and Duxbury urged coastal residents to evacuate ahead of the flooding, which forecaster feared could rival a storm that lashed the coast in October 1991 or even the famed Blizzard of '78.
"Do not ride out the storm in your home if you are told to evacuate," a stern Gov. Charlie Baker warned in an afternoon press conference.
Forecasters said the storm, which was just forming Thursday afternoon, would hit the South Shore particularly hard with near-hurricane force winds and up to 4 inches of rain starting this morning. Flood-prone areas, and even those that typically remain above water, are expected to flood with the 11:30 a.m. tide and could be under water until after the evening high tide, some 12 hours later.
Officials, calling the storm "extremely dangerous" and "life-threatening," warned that it would likely destroy some coastal homes and severely damage others. Gov. Baker signed an order Thursday activating 200 National Guardsmen and women but warned that even with the help of a fleet of 34 vehicles they may not be able to rescue people trapped in coastal areas at the height of the storm.
"People should take this really seriously irregardless of what it looks like today," Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday afternoon.
All MBTA ferry service for today has been canceled and is not expected to resume until Sunday. In addition Massachusetts State Police planned to close several state roads along the coast, including Quincy Shore Drive, Hull Shore Drive and Nantasket Avenue. Schools in Quincy, Hull, Scituate, Marshfield and Duxbury are closed as well.
Joe Rossi, chairman of the Marshfield Citizens Coastal Coalition, said storm surges of three to four feet were expected to hit the South Shore at a time of already high astronomical tides and could push floodwaters into areas that would normally remain dry. He said the strength of the storm surge also means floodwaters may not recede after this morning's high tide and could continue battering homes through the evening, leaving people who stay behind stranded.
"If you're really questioning whether you should remain in your building, we are telling people that once the tide comes in on Friday you most likely won't be able to get out," he said.
Marshfield police were asking residents in flood-prone areas to evacuate before 11:45 this morning, when high tide is expected to hit. The senior center on Webster Street will be used as a warming center starting today at 8 a.m., and any pets that need to be boarded can be taken to the Animal Shelter on Clay Pit Road.
Ron Bizzezero, who has a home near Rexhame Beach, had just finished boarding up his ocean-facing windows early Thursday afternoon when he got an automated call from the town warning him of the impending waves. The summer resident said he wasn't phased, however, and planned to ride out the storm.
"We've had waves break over the flag pole; that's 25 feet," he said. "I've been here for 30 years of storms, and I'm not leaving now."
Marshfield selectmen voted to declare a state of emergency effective from 10 p.m. Thursday to 10 p.m. Sunday. Town Administrator Michael Maresco said the distinction allows the police department to enact parking bans, and, if the state decides the storm is harmful enough, the town would be eligible for reimbursement for any weather-related costs incurred during the time of the state of emergency.
"It puts everyone on notice that you will seek whatever assistance you need financially, and you will be looking for mutual aid from whatever surrounding communities could help us," he said.
In Scituate, town officials were "strongly encouraging" residents living along to coast and off low-lying roads to get to higher ground, according to a notice posted on the town website. Those who evacuate were being asked to fill out an anonymous form on the site so emergency workers know they don't have to check on them during the height of the storm. Late Thursday they announced that Front Street in the harbor would be closed by 10 a.m. today
Scituate police also expect to close several roads during the storm, including Front Street, Edward Foster Road and Surfside Road. The town began handing out sand and sand bags at the intersection of Front Street and First Parish Road at 9 a.m. Thursday morning but had run out of bags within two hours. Some people turned back while others stood around with shovels waiting for more bags to arrive.
In Hull, officials were urging residents in flood-prone areas who choose not to evacuate to stock up on enough food and supplies to get them through 36 to 72 hours. Fire Chief Christopher Russo said the storm could create "life-threatening conditions" and cause "incredible damage" to the coast line. By 7 p.m., residents had filled more than 7,000 sandbags at the Department of Public Works yard.
Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch declared a weather emergency for the city on Thursday and warned residents in Squantum and Houghs Neck that the peninsulas would likely be cut off from the mainland during the storm. Christopher Walker, a spokesman for the mayor, said the city is having police and firefighters go door to door in some particularly vulnerable coastal areas to encourage people to evacuate.
"They should very strongly consider leaving, because we may not be able to get to them," he said.
Officials warned that flooding today could be worse that that seen on Jan. 9, when storm waters reached coastal areas that hadn't flooded in decades. That included Bill Kerr's Humarock home, which he said flooded for the first time since the Blizzard of '78.
"That was a once-in-100-years storm, and here we are again two months later preparing again," Kerr said.
Bill Simpson, a spokesman for the National Weather Service in Taunton, said they storm is expected to be particularly damaging because it could stall about 100 miles off Cape Cod and lash the coast for hours before finally moving off.
"The big issues is it's going to be a prolonged event," he said.
The National Weather Service has issued coastal flood and high wind warnings for the South Shore, warning of storm surges up to four feet and wind gusts up to 70 mph. The agency said the storm could leave some areas under three feet of water, cutting off whole neighborhoods and destroying some homes. Strong winds are also expected to knock out power in some areas.
The rain is expected to taper off by Saturday morning but moderate coastal flooding could continue through the evening.
Bob Eagan, who lives near the Scituate Lighthouse, said this type of weather is just something residents have to live with. His family has owned a Rebecca Road road home since 1956, and Eagan was again boarding up windows on Thursday afternoon. He said the storms can be unpredictable, but that the summer-time living more than makes up for the winter hassles.
"Before long the sun will be hot; the beer will be cold, and we'll forget all about this," he said.
Staff reporter Sean Cotter contributed to this report.
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