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Storm claws away cliffs, dunes

The raging seas from last week’s nor’easter left towns from Nantucket to the North Shore struggling to recover from the coastal erosion that carved away beaches, undermining houses and flooding residential areas.

On the eastern coast of ­Nantucket, the ocean’s waves tore as much as 30 feet off the cliffs that run along Siasconset Beach. The erosion pushed the edge of the 80-foot-high cliff ­inland, dangerously close to Baxter Road, which runs along the coast, said Jeff Carlson, Nantucket’s natural resources coordinator.

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“There’s no real rock material; it’s all primarily glacial material, like sand, in the cliffs,” Carlson said. “It’s very prone to erosion from water and storms.”

The owners of a garage that sat close to the shoreline demolished it after the storm undermined its foundation, he said. The erosion placed another house precariously close to the bluff’s edge and the owners may have to demolish it, too, if they cannot find a nearby lot to relocate the building.

In Truro, the ocean gashed a 300-foot breach in the dunes that separate Ballston Beach from the Pamet River, said Paul Morris, director of the town’s Department of Public Works.

During high tide, the ocean floods the river and the land along its banks, Town Administrator Rex Peterson said. He ­estimated that nearly 50 homes are in danger of flooding.

Town officials are asking residents in the affected area to test their well water to determine if any underground septic tanks were damaged by the flooding and are leaking into wells, Petersen said.

A group of town administrators and environmental officials are considering a preliminary plan to close the breach by trucking in sand from nearby Coast Guard Beach .

In Wellfleet, the water is now too far from the road, rather than too close. Parts of the town’s four beaches are now separated from the water by dangerous 90-foot cliffs the ocean clawed out of the once gently sloping dunes.

“After the blizzard, all four of our beaches had lost most of the angled access,” Wellfleet beach administrator Suzanne Grout Thomas said. “The last storm exacerbated the sloughing and now in most places there’s just a straight drop to the beach from the parking lot. The dunes are really unstable right now.”

The town has closed two of the four beaches, and police are working to prevent curious residents from standing on the edge of the freshly carved cliffs, Thomas said.

And in Rockport, Joseph ­Parisi, director of public works, said beach erosion has put an already fragile seawall in danger of collapse, threatening a group of cottages sheltered ­behind the wall.

The seawalls in Manchester-by-the-Sea are also in danger, after the ocean washed away most of the supporting sand on Singing Beach, leaving the shoreline carpeted in gravel and heavier sediments, said Steven Kenney, the town’s ­director of public works.

He said the sand may never return to Singing Beach naturally, so the town could be forced to truck some in to bolster the seawall.

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