Bush Surveys Storm-Ravaged Family Retreat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the oceanfront home where President Bush has spent 66 summers, even the bronze plaque that bore his ode to Walkers Point had been swept out to sea.

For Bush, the 88-year-old house that his grandfather built on the rocky Atlantic Coast was always his "anchor to windward." But the crushed windows and walls he saw Saturday as he surveyed the wreckage left behind by a nor'easter left no doubt that the ocean had triumphed.

"Unfortunately, the sea won this round," a subdued Bush said as he stood surrounded by piles of rubble, the ground-floor rooms of his $2.2-million home still ankle-deep with the mud, rocks and debris of the sea.

The three-story Walkers Point compound was so badly battered Thursday by the 30-foot waves that walls were carried away and a guest house was blasted off its foundation. Swept away by the sea were furniture, books and what Bush said had been the memorabilia of a lifetime.

"Isn't that something?" Bush asked reporters who toured the once-picturesque grounds, now strewn with jagged stones, pungent seaweed and an occasional dead lobster. But, he added hopefully, "There's always tomorrow."

Bush vowed that his family would rebuild what was broken, and said that a builder had assured him that the home's stone structure was still sound. "It's our family strength, being this close to the ocean," Bush said. "We'll figure it out."

But he said it could be a long time before the home might again become habitable. And as he met with insurance officials Saturday afternoon, they gathered not in the storm-ravaged main house but in a less-damaged building that serves as his personal office.

There was no estimate of the damage that the storm had caused to the property, but Bush said only part of the cost of rebuilding would be covered by insurance. He said he hoped his policy would allow him to collect on federal flood insurance, which provides disaster assistance to residents of oceanfront and low-lying areas.

Walkers Point is named for Bush's maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker, who built the first structures on the property in 1903. Bush bought the home from an aunt in 1980 for $800,000.

The compound weathered a similar violent storm in 1978, and Bush told reporters Saturday that if the structure had been destroyed, state law would not permit it to be rebuilt in the same location. But he said the law would allow the damaged home to be repaired.

The President and his wife, Barbara, had already relived the storm's horror from the Houston hotel suite that serves as their official residence, viewing a Secret Service videotape that showed angry waves crashing over the low-slung extension that serves as a family room and slamming into the side of the two-story main house.

But as the couple arrived to take personal stock of the wreckage in what remains their only true home, it was clear that the damage had shaken them beyond expectations.

"These guys who live here all the time have never seen anything like it, ever," Bush said. "We're talking about hundred-year storms."

Mrs. Bush called the damage "pretty bad" but added stoically, "A lot worse things happen in life." Both she and the President expressed concern for other families up and down the Atlantic Coast whose homes were also battered by the storm, which packed record surf and powerful winds.

The Bushes had arrived at the house earlier in the day without an entourage, and White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater described their first view of the property as "tragic."

"When they first walked into the house," he said, "it was a sad situation."

The President, who was wearing a blue windbreaker, gray slacks and a tan fishing cap, donned heavy gloves to help drag sodden rugs outside where they might dry.

But his spokesman said Bush also spent some of his time wandering across the property in search of belongings uprooted by the storm. Among the memorabilia the President found in a swampy area at least 50 yards from the house was a Yale fraternity paddle, and a framed photograph of his father, the late Sen. Prescott Bush.

"You kind of latch onto these things as a kind of natural psychological way of dealing with disaster," Fitzwater said.

Across the compound, the storm could be seen to have taken a toll on virtually every aspect of Bush's life at what has become his summertime White House.

Twin tennis courts lay almost unrecognizable, awash in mud and piled high with stones. The small pier where in the summer he docked his speedboat, Felicity, was simply no more, and its protective seawall bore a 15-foot gap.

Among the furniture piled outside were the splintered remnants of a massive dining table. Other debris from a house that does double duty as a family retreat and a political meeting point included relics from the 1980 Reagan--Bush campaign.

A porch favored as a gathering place for its view of the ocean had simply been washed away. And the master bedroom from which Bush called Mikhail S. Gorbachev as the Soviet coup failed had been washed almost clean, the ocean taking with it the front wall, bookshelves and furniture.

"Here's our bedroom," Bush told reporters as he clambered over the foundation and moved through the blown-out wall across the muddy floor. "I don't think you've ever been invited into our bedroom. . . . "

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