Fifty-year-old Steve Machado was packing up his car this afternoon on St. John Street in Dartmouth with items including a change of clothes, a laptop and a camera. He was also bringing along his pitbull, Elizabeth, and he said he planned to ride out Hurricane Sandy 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?”
Dartmouth and Fall River are the two communities in the state where officials have issued a mandatory evacuation order for some areas in anticipation of a high tide around 8 p.m. tonight that is expected to be swelled by the hurricane surge and cause major flooding. On St. John Street, most residents appeared to have complied with the order.
Rosemary Martin, 43, of New Bedford, came down to the edge of nearby Jones Beach to watch the pounding surf. She was excited by Sandy. “I’m loving it,” she said.
She added that her home had so far felt no ill effects from the storm, though she was worried about a large tree in her yard. “Pretty good so far,” she said. “We haven’t lost power.” As she spoke, a Dartmouth police officer pulled up to the beach and ordered storm watchers to clear away from a jetty.
In nearby New Bedford, dozens of people took refuge at two emergency shelters.
“I think we’ve managed it well,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell during a late afternoon visit the shelter at the Keith Middle School.
Two of the Keith shelter occupants, Andrew DiIanni, 38, and Steve Correia, 28, said they had been living under a bridge near the downtown area and initially tried to ride out the storm with three other people, using a makeshift barrier of tarps and other items.
But by noon, they said, the wind became too strong, and they called police for assistance. “We had tarps, they were whipped in half, the wind was so strong,” said DiIanni. He said he was also struck by rocks when the wind picked up.”
“Thank God for this shelter,” DiIanni said. “Because [I] don’t know if we could stomach this storm tonight.”
Another man at the Keith shelter, who would only give his name as William, 47, said he left Melville Towers, a high rise apartment building on Pleasant Street, earlier today because he had concerns about its safety during the storm.
“There’s no way I’m going to go back there tonight,” he said. William also said he feared the storm was just starting to ramp up. “The worst is yet to come,” he said. “Believe me, the worst is yet to come.”
Earlier in the day in Westport, John Pappas, 40, of Westport kept an eye on the clamming boat he works on, which was tied up at the nearby docks.
The low-lying Westport Point is notorious for flooding during huge storms, and Pappas predicted high water tonight.
“Be here around 8 o’clock tonight,” he said, referring to when the tide will return. “There’s going to be some drastic flooding. All we can really do now is wait.”
The wind was steadily gusting on Main Road in Westport around 3 p.m., when there was a loud pop and a white flash and the power lines glowed bright orange, 100 feet in each direction for several seconds.
A branch off a maple tree had cracked off and torn down the wires. Smoke poured off the branch where it still touched the broken cables, and then the branch burst into flames. The fire alternately swelled in the gusty wind and was knocked back by the rain.
The severed cables sagged to the ground, where they smoldered and flared up as they were pushed around by the wind. The smoke had an odd sweet smell — like an electrical fire.
Drivers that did not want to be trapped at Westport Point — a dead end — hesitated a moment and then sped past the flaming cables at the side of the road. The fire department arrived 15 to 20 minutes after the first flames and cleared onlookers from the area.
Throughout the day in the town, wave watchers in rain slickers trekked to Horseneck Beach and nearby neighborhoods to see Sandy close up. They leaned unsteadily into the gusts and trained video cameras on the pounding white waves.
On West Beach Road, self-described “weather enthusiast” Chris Correia of Dartmouth said he had been visiting Westport during storms most of his life.
“My father used to take us here as kids,” he said, fighting against the wind at the end of the road, which is not far from Horseneck Beach. “I’m an amateur storm chaser.”
He brought his girlfriend, Lisa Martin, and her son, Nicholas, 9, to see the hurricane close up this afternoon.
A few steps away, waves crashed with huge white spray. “Look at those waves,” he yelled over the wind. “It’s nature at its best and its worst.”
The trio filmed the big waves, titled into the wind, and screamed like a family on a carnival ride when the big gusts sent them staggering to keep their feet.