WESTPORT — They came to the water by the dozens, leaning against the wind, shooting shaky videos of thundering waves, and watching Hurricane Sandy pound a shoreline that might never be the same.
“I’ll bet you it will be drastically changed by tomorrow morning,” Fire Chief Brian Legendre said late Monday afternoon, several hours before the tides were expected to peak.
“All of our shoreline could be affected,” he said. “They are expecting a six-foot storm surge on top of 15-foot waves and the normal high tide.”
Westport, Dartmouth, and other communities on the South Coast were drawing the attention of Governor Deval Patrick and other officials late Monday as the storm was taking a heavy toll there.
Patrick, during an evening news conference, said the “greatest disruption” from the storm appeared to be on the South Coast, and State Police said they had sent several emergency vehicles to the region to assist with evacuations in flooded areas.
Throughout the day, the waves in Westport grew in power, drawing a steady flow of nature voyeurs to West Beach Road, a low-lying street lined with beach cottages, several elevated on pylons, along with some year-round homes. A few were boarded up with plywood.
Visitors who parked along the road had to fight against a wind that did not want to let car doors open.
Self-described “weather enthusiast” Chris Correia, of Dartmouth, has been visiting Westport during storms most of his life.
“My father used to take us here as kids,” he said, fighting to stay upright against the wind. “I’m an amateur storm chaser.”
He brought his girlfriend Lisa Martin and her son Nicholas, 9, of New Bedford, to see Sandy close up.
“Look at those waves,” he yelled over the wind. “It’s nature at its best and its worst.”
The trio bent into the steady breeze and screamed like a family on a carnival ride when the big gusts sent them staggering.
At the height of the storm, Westport received three inches of rain, the Fire Department said. Deputy Fire Chief Allen Manley said the biggest problems were fallen tree limbs and wires.
In nearby Dartmouth, Deputy Fire Chief John Judson said Padanaram Harbor was the most affected area.
“As of right now, things are winding down and flooding has subsided,” said Judson pointing to significant improvements as of Monday night.
Some greeted the storm with enthusiasm in Dartmouth, its ill effects notwithstanding.
Residents on more than two dozen streets were ordered to leave their homes, police said, including on St. John Street, which is located near beaches.
Steve Machado, 50, was packing up his car on St. John in the afternoon with items including a change of clothes, a laptop, and a camera.
He was also bringing along his pit bull, Elizabeth, and said he planned to ride out the storm at his sister’s house in New Bedford.
“It’s great,” Machado said of the wind and rain. “Just what we need, know what I mean?”
In New Bedford, Mayor Jon Mitchell issued an express warning against storm watching when he briefed reporters in the afternoon.
“Above all, resist the temptation to go down to the hurricane dike or to the shore and watch the waves come in,” he said.
More than 40 people in his city sought refuge during the day at two emergency shelters, including one man who would only give his name as William, 47, who went to the shelter at Keith Middle School.
He said he left Melville Towers, a high-rise apartment complex in the city, because he had concerns about the safety of the building during the storm.
“There’s no way I’m going to go back there tonight,” he said, adding that the storm was just beginning to ramp up in the early evening.
“The worst is yet to come,” he said. “Believe me, the worst is yet to come.”
Schools and city offices will be closed on Tuesday because of the storm.
Back at Westport Point, John Pappas, 40, was keeping an eye on the clamming boat he works on, which was tied up at the nearby docks.
The low-lying point is notorious for flooding during huge storms.
“There’s going to be some drastic flooding,” he said. “All we can really do now is wait.”
At 3 p.m., on Main Road, a high limb of a maple tree broke with a loud crack, and landed on power lines that popped in a bright white flash.
For the next few seconds, the cables glowed bright orange for 100 feet in each direction.
Smoke poured off the branch where it still touched the cables, and the branch burst into flames.
The fire alternately swelled in the wind gusts and was knocked back by the rain.
Shortly after 5 p.m., with dusk approaching and waves throwing water across West Beach Road, the police cleared out onlookers.
A few minutes later, the docks at Westport Point were underwater, and the tides had begun creeping up the street, reaching the foundation of the Paquachuck Inn as darkness fell.
By about 7:40 p.m., the water had risen to the front porch of the Paquachuck Inn, and the flooding had extended about 60 yards down the street.