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Rockport picks up pieces from sea’s wrath

For the town of Rockport, which sits on an unsheltered peninsula jutting out from the coast, the snow was not nearly as damaging as the water.

During the storm Friday and Saturday, the waves were strong enough to fling boulders off the beach and onto residents’ lawns and into their houses. Some families found their windows smashed by lobster pots, said Paul Murphy, vice chairman of Rockport’s Board of Selectmen.

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“It looked like a disaster area when I walked through town yesterday,” Murphy said. “At one point, the ocean came up and ripped up the back of houses on the shore.”

He estimated the final tally of the damage, mostly to houses and businesses on the coastline, will be in the millions of dollars. The town opened a shelter at Rockport High School for residents who lost power. At one point, power was down for 80 percent of the town, Murphy said. At the height of the storm, 68 people, mostly elderly, gathered at the shelter, and some were still there Monday afternoon, he said.

Gasoline lines providing fuel to plows and emergency vehicles froze during the storm, so the National Guard brought gallons of gas to keep the snow crews running.

Tim Olson, assistant director of the Department of Public Works, said the department’s entire staff mobilized to plow snow and clear debris before and during the storm.

The roads were almost entirely clear of snow, he said Monday, but some low-lying streets were blocked by boulders and other debris.

Olson said the town, in its vulnerable position, is used to picking itself up after storms, although it has not experienced one this bad since the Blizzard of 1978. “Our guys are doing a great job with snow removal and clearing the roads of debris,” he said.

Like many coastal towns, Rockport’s economy depends on its fishing boats and the marine culture that attracts tourists. The damage may threaten that economy, at least in the short term, said Harbormaster Rosemary Lesch. The storm destroyed the sea wall at two of four harbors. “The force of the waves was just too great,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of serious money and work to put those walls back together.”

As badly as the storm hurt the town, Lesch said, it spared Rockport’s most famous icon: Motif No. 1, a picturesque, bright red fishing shed that is a favorite with artists. “This was a bad storm, but we didn’t lose that.  We were lucky that way.”

Todd Feathers can be reached at todd.feathers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ToddFeathers.
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