Plum Island residents assess storm’s devastation

Stephen and Sharon Bresnahan watched as crews tore down their home, which fell from its foundations early Saturday morning.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Stephen and Sharon Bresnahan watched as crews tore down their home, which fell from its foundations early Saturday morning.

NEWBURY— The steel jaws of excavators dismantled what the sea had left behind along the edge of Plum Island on Saturday.

A severe winter storm that battered the Massachusetts shore Friday and dumped 2 feet of snow on some inland communities hit Plum Island especially hard. Roiling waves from the Atlantic Ocean ripped two houses from their foundations over Friday and Saturday and damaged several others.

The two houses that fell onto the beach — a $700,000 home at 31 Annapolis Way and an $800,000 home at 41 Annapolis Way — were demolished Saturday, said Newbury building inspector Sam Joslin.


On Sunday, crews will tear down the house at 37 Annapolis Way, he said, then inspect three extensively damaged houses on nearby Fordham Way — numbers 34, 36, and 38 — to determine whether they have to be demolished as well.

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“We were expecting minor damage, you know, decks and things of that nature,” Joslin said. “Not to get to the point where we have 12 homes unoccupied, and six of those are probably going be torn down.”

The small barrier island showed little sign Saturday of the destructive fury of the storm that had pounded it Friday.

The sky was a bright, cloudless blue, and an ocean breeze blew past the homes left standing. National Guardsmen stood watch along Southern Boulevard and Annapolis Way beside green military trucks. Demolition workers filled long metal dumpsters with the splintered wreckage of summer homes.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Plum Island was hit especially hard. Waves from the Atlantic Ocean ripped two houses from their foundations over Friday and Saturday.

Sharon Bresnahan said her mother, Cecilia Azzarito, owned the gray-sided house at 31 Annapolis Way. Her family purchased the property in the late 1960s, when it was a small cottage.


The structure fell around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, Joslin said. The back deck, surrounded by white rails, lay smashed against a line of sand bags that had been constructed to protect it.

Bresnahan said she spent childhood summers at the home. She managed to save a bedroom set before the structure was lost.

“It’s almost like a death right now because a lot of good memories were at this house,” she said.

A construction crew was scheduled to fortify the foundation this Tuesday, Bresnahan said, but when she woke up Saturday morning, she saw her mother’s house on the 6 a.m. newscasts, tipped onto the shore and completely off its foundation.

“Time just ran out,” said Bresnahan, who was unsure what recourse she and her relatives might have. They own the land, she said, and will rebuild if possible.


Linda Manning, 50, said her family has owned the weathered wood-shingle house at 29 Annapolis Way for about 40 years. A summer home, it too was damaged by recent storms, but Manning said the family is working to save the structure through slabjacking — drilling holes into the sinking foundation and filling them with grout.

Recalling the house as it stood decades ago, she said the water used to be hundreds of feet away from the back door. It is now within a stone’s throw.

“We have lost more than half of the beach,” Manning said.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
A house destroyed in Friday’s storm had been in the same family since the 1960s, when it was a small cottage.

As homes came down around her Saturday, Pat Senecal, 65, reflected on the damage.

“I’ve been coming down here since I was a child, and it’s just very sad to see,” said Senecal, whose family’s summer house is away from the beach on a nearby street. “And it’s not just sand that’s gone, it’s a lot of memories.”

The Merrimack River Beach Alliance, a group of officials and residents from Newbury, Newburyport, and Salisbury, is planning to meet Monday at 11 a.m. at the Plum Island Taxpayers Hall in Newbury to discuss the storm damage.

Along the South Shore, a number of other communities bore the brunt of fierce waves and flooding during Friday’s storm.

Scituate’s director of public works, Albert G. Bangert, said several roads were washed out in the town, including Central Avenue, other streets near Humarock Beach, Glades Road, and Rebecca Road. Public works officials may not be able to assess damaged waterfront homes until Monday or Tuesday, he said.

“We can’t even get to the homes that might be condemned because of flooding,” he said.

In Marshfield, where some coastal neighborhoods experienced flooding, emergency management officials said in a statement that they hope to begin assessing damage early this week.

Police in Hingham, Hull, and Sandwich said their towns were spared serious damage. State Police closed Winthrop Shore Drive and Winthrop Parkway on Saturday morning, but no major problems were reported.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Homeowner Stephen Bresnahan salvaged deck furniture from his house minutes before wrecking crews tore it down.

Many communities, including those, have suffered repeated problems with flooding and property damage during the series of storms that have hit Massachusetts in the past month.

On Plum Island, which has suffered particularly severe erosion, residents say environmental restrictions have prevented them from adequately protecting their homes.

“This has been going on for years and we’ve been trying to protect our homes with our own money, and we’ve had one roadblock after another,” Bresnahan said.

A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection could not be reached for comment.

State Senate minority leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, said Massachusetts should explore advanced erosion defense mechanisms as the area prepares for more storms.

“The tides aren’t going to stop, and the wind may abate,” he said, “but it’s not going to go away.”

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at