Hurricane Bob Rips Into New England; Thousands Flee : Storm: Torrential rain, winds up to 138 m.p.h. topple trees, smash boats, knock out power. Its fury should be spent by today.


Hurricane Bob slammed into New England Monday, downing trees and power lines, smashing boats, ripping off porches and balconies and popping out windows as it battered the coastline with high winds and torrential rains.

The storm, the second of the hurricane season, was blamed for at least three deaths and 20 injuries as it moved up the Eastern Seaboard. At least three persons also were reported missing, one of whom was believed to have been swept off a yacht into the raging Atlantic Ocean.

Thousands of vacationers and residents fled low-lying areas for higher ground, and non-essential state workers in Maine and Massachusetts were ordered home early. Hardware stores, groceries and convenience stores were besieged by anxious customers stocking up on emergency supplies, such as bottled water, batteries and canned foods.


At Minot’s Light, a 19th-Century lighthouse near Strawberry Point south of Boston, waves reached nearly to the top of the 100-foot-tall landmark.

Navy submarines fled their berths in Connecticut to wait out the storm in the safety of the high seas, and throughout the region, nuclear power plants were powered down as a precautionary measure.

Power was knocked out to about 725,000 customers from Long Island to New Bedford, Mass., as the storm raged over the region with sustained winds of 110 m.p.h. and gusts of up to 138 m.p.h.

Bob, which formed as a tropical storm east of the Bahamas last Friday, was classified as a Category 3 storm on a scale of 1 to 5.

At the National Hurricane Center in Miami, forecaster Jack Beven said Bob was “following very close to the forecast track” at its predicted speed of about 35 m.p.h. “It will be gone by Tuesday,” Beven added.

As Bob passed off the Maine coast Monday night it was downgraded to a tropical storm when its maximum sustained winds dropped to 70 m.p.h., 4 m.p.h. below the hurricane threshold.

The hurricane first hit land in New England at about 1:30 p.m. at Block Island, midway between Long Island and Rhode Island’s southern coast, after roaring into Cape Hatteras, N.C., early Monday, skirting the Virginia and Delaware coasts, passing by the tip of New Jersey and grazing the eastern tip of Long Island.

More than 2,000 vacationers and residents on Block Island took refuge at emergency shelters set up at a schoolhouse, a medical center and a sewer plant.

Fred Benson, the island’s oldest resident and a veteran of a killer hurricane in 1938, took everything in stride from the comfort of his home, however. Asked by a caller if he were afraid, he responded wryly: “I’m 96 and I’ve been through a lot. But there’s a tree out there that is very nervous.”

Bob passed through Rhode Island, hit Massachusetts and then swirled into Maine. Massive traffic jams clogged Boston’s streets as residents scurried to stores to stock up on emergency supplies.

Joanna Lennon, a Berkeley, Calif., resident who had arrived in Nantucket, Mass., Monday for a quiet vacation with her family, was startled to hear loudspeakers urging islanders to evacuate as Bob headed for Massachusetts. “Some vacation,” she grumbled.

In Maine, Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. ordered the evacuation of all residents within one-fourth mile of the state’s southern shoreline.

President Bush, vacationing at his oceanfront home in Kennebunkport, Me., had left for Washington in advance of the storm to deal with the foreign policy crisis created by the ouster of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. First Lady Barbara Bush took refuge with their grandchildren at a friend’s house inland, but returned home after the storm passed.

Just before 5 p.m., the White House press office had notified reporters that it was moving from the country inn where it is headquartered. “The White House press office is now closed,” said the announcement. “We’re moving to higher ground.”

Boat damage was extensive, particularly along the Massachusetts coast and offshore resort islands that appeared to take the brunt of the storm.

All along the Eastern Seaboard, states had prepared for the worst, but many areas were spared.

In Cape May County, N.J., a popular summer resort area at the southern tip of the state, officials reported only minor beach erosion, scattered debris and no major flooding.

“Overall, the damage was really minimal,” said county spokeswoman Mary Rucci, “certainly nothing like what we had prepared for. It was like having a very windy rainstorm.”

Just north of Cape May County, it was business as usual at the glittery casinos along the fabled boardwalk at Atlantic City.

Despite high winds and driving rains that pelted the seaside gambling resort as the hurricane raged about 100 miles offshore, gamblers were huddled outside the casinos or inside the lobbies waiting for the 10 a.m. opening times.

By 11 a.m. the games were running full tilt as the sun was out and shining on the rippling sea.

Bob’s track was similar to that taken in 1985 by Hurricane Gloria, a tempest whose 150-m.p.h. winds earned it the sobriquet of “the Storm of the Century.”

Anne C. Roark reported from Block Island and David Treadwell from New York. Also contributing to this report were staff writers Elizabeth Mehren in Boston and Douglas Jehl in Kennebunkport and free-lance writer Mike Clary in Miami.

Hurricane Bob

Path since Friday, Aug. 16.

10:30 p.m. Monday--Became tropical storm

6 p.m. Saturday--Became hurricane

Noon Friday--Became tropical storm

Position 6 p.m. Mon.: 43.5 N, 70.2

Moving: W/35 mph

Winds: NNE/75 mph