For the town of Rockport, which sits on an unsheltered peninsula jutting off the coast, the snow wasn’t nearly as damaging as the water.
During the storm Friday and Saturday, the waves were strong enough to fling boulders off the beach and into resident’s lawns and houses. Some families found their windows smashed by lobster pots, said Paul Murphy, vice chairman of Rockport’s board of selectman.
“It looked like a disaster area when I walked through town yesterday,” Murphy said. “At one point, the ocean came up and ripped up the back of houses on the shore.”
He estimated that the final tally of the damage, mostly to houses and businesses on the coastline, will be in the millions of dollars.
The city opened a shelter at Rockport High School to house resident’s who lost power. At one point, power was down for 80 percent of the town, Murphy said
During the height of the storm, 68 people, mostly elderly, gathered at the shelter and some were still there Monday afternoon, he said.
Gas lines providing fuel to plows and emergency vehicles froze over during the storm, so the National Guard brought gallons of gas to keep the snow crews running.
Department of Public Works Assistant Director Tim Olson said their entire staff mobilized to plow snow and clear debris before and during the storm, but there was nothing that could be done to stop the ocean from lashing the shore.
The roads are almost entirely clear of snow, he said, but some low-lying streets are blocked by boulders and other debris the ocean washed in.
Olson said the city, in its vulnerable position, is used to picking itself up after storms, although it hasn’t experienced one this bad since the Blizzard of 1978.
“It was just a typical nor’easter that came through with heavy winds and snow,” he said. “Our guys are doing a great job with snow removal and clearing the roads of debris.”
Like many coastal towns, Rockport’s economy depends on its fishing boats and the marine culture that attracts tourists. The damage may threaten that economy, at least in the short term, said Harbor Master Rosemary Lesch. The storm destroyed the seawall at two of Rockport’s four harbors.
“The force of the waves was just too great,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of serious money and work to put those walls back together.”
Until the city can replace the walls, the ocean will continue eating away at Rockport’s shoreline.
As badly as the storm hurt the town, Lesch said, it spared Rockport’s most famous icon: Motif Number 1, a picturesque, bright red fishing shed on the shoreline that some artists believe is the most painted building in the country.
The shed had to be rebuilt after the Blizzard of 1978, but it stood undamaged through last weekend’s nor’easter.
“This was a bad storm, but we didn’t lose that,” Lesch said. “We were lucky that way.”