An intense “extra-tropical” Atlantic storm built surging tides that hurled 20-foot waves into low-lying areas along the East Coast Thursday, ravaging houses, boats and beaches from Maine to Florida.
More than 100 beachfront homes in Maine, including President Bush’s vacation home at Kennebunkport, were damaged.
“There is extraordinary damage inside the home and the other buildings” of the Walkers Point compound, Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters. “There are reports of windows and walls being caved in and a disastrous situation there with regard to their personal property.”
Another White House source said the first floor of the house was virtually gutted and that water had covered the entire Bush property, with the house sticking up like an island.
The storm hit the Northeast like a sledgehammer, causing at least one death. A man who had gone fishing near Jones Beach on New York’s Long Island during the storm was found dead Thursday after apparently being blown into the water or slipping off a bridge, police said.
Two people were reported missing: a fisherman who was swept from a rocky point at Narragansett, R.I., on Tuesday night, and an Air National Guardsman whose four crew mates were rescued from a life raft early Thursday after their helicopter went down.
At high tide Thursday morning, waves up to 20 feet crashed against Boston Light, a lighthouse in Boston Harbor.
The destruction from towering waves and hurricane-force gusts reached a crescendo Wednesday night and early Thursday.
It pushed rivers through inland back yards and commuter routes, punched holes in wooden seawalls and smashed others to pieces, flooded coastal towns, collapsed houses and knocked out power to thousands. It tossed boats ashore, eroded beaches as far south as Palm Beach, Fla., and prompted dozens of sea rescues.
“I’ve made a lot of ocean voyages, but this is the first time I actually thought I was going to die,” said Karen Stimpson, 40, who was rescued by the Coast Guard 70 miles south of Nantucket Island, Mass.
“I’ve seen a couple of summer cottages float by whole,” said Jeff Sullivan, a fisherman in Chatham on Cape Cod. At the storm’s peak, even 6,000-pound anchors failed to keep boats in place, a worker there said.
In Scituate, Mass., most of 20 Peggotty Beach homes had been rebuilt on concrete and pilings after being destroyed by a 1978 blizzard with hurricane-force winds. Hurricane Bob arrived this year at low tide and left them unscathed, but Thursday, at least five homes fell to the enormous waves and others were rocked off their foundations.
In Marshfield, Mass., a house was lifted off its foundations, then set back down at an angle. Inside, the crockery and furniture were undisturbed. “It really looks like something out of the Wizard of Oz,” said the owners’ daughter, Virginia Murray. “We’re just missing the ruby slippers.”
“Every time a wave would come crashing in the shore, it pushed everything in,” said John Jackson, sitting in his service station a half-block from Swampscott Harbor north of Boston. Rowboats from a nearby marina “were floating down the street. It looked like a running river of saltwater.”
Thousands fled year-round homes to shelters set up in schools along the coast. Emergencies were declared Thursday in nine counties in Massachusetts, two counties in Maine and in Dare County on the North Carolina Outer Banks.
In New Jersey, several people had to be rescued from cars when a coastal road near Long Branch flooded. More than 1,300 people abandoned Sea Bright when waves came crashing over a seawall and the Shrewsbury River overflowed.
Surf described by a meteorologist as the area’s second-highest tide ever recorded damaged part of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, police said. Casino gamblers stopped to watch the awesome sight of giant waves pounding the beach.
In the exclusive enclave of Westhampton Beach, on eastern Long Island, 8-foot waves washed 19 shorefront homes out to sea.
A resident of North Carolina’s Outer Banks said the storm exposed a shipwreck that had washed ashore in 1962. She watched the wreckage float toward her and break up just before hitting her house.
“I looked up and saw waves breaking on the dune line. Water was being thrown into the air 20 to 30 feet. I can’t describe the beauty of it and yet the incredible destructive force. How lucky I was.”
The 200-mile-wide Atlantic storm, which has no official name but has been dubbed E.T., formed earlier this week off Canada and is called “extra-tropical” because it did not originate in the tropics as hurricanes do. However, the storm resembles a hurricane on radar and can do just as much damage, meteorologists said.
Some of the energy from Hurricane Grace, which battered Bermuda early this week, combined with the storm to create the towering swells of ocean water.
Meteorologists said the storm followed a southward course Thursday and appeared to be weakening as it stalled 300 miles east of Virginia, but its whiplash was expected to sting the mainland through today.