“But it’s nature,” he added, “and it can change in a minute.”
In Westport, the wind whipped along Main Road when there was a loud pop and white flash. For several seconds, the power lines glowed bright orange.
Smoke poured off the branch that had ripped down the wires, then it burst into flames by the side of the road. The fire grew with the wind, but was then knocked back by the rain.
Drivers hesitated a moment, then sped past. About 15 minutes later, the fire department arrived to clear onlookers.
Throughout the day, people trekked to the beach in rain slickers to see Sandy close up. They leaned unsteadily into the gusts and trained video cameras on the pounding white waves.
“Look at those waves,” Chris Correia, a “weather enthusiast” from Dartmouth, yelled over the wind. “It’s nature at its best and its worst.”
In New Bedford, dozens of people took refuge at emergency shelters. Andrew DiIanni, 38, and Steve Correia, 28, said they have been living under a bridge near the downtown area. They initially tried to ride out the storm with a barrier of tarps. But by noon, the wind became too strong, and they called police for help.
“They were whipped in half, the wind was so strong,” DiIanni said of the tarps.
Just over a hundred people sought shelter in the state.
On the North Shore, Plum Island resident Bob Connorscalled Sandy “a doozie of a storm.” He said he decided not to leave because his home is newer and built to withstand a Category 3 hurricane. Many others, especially the elderly or those with medical conditions, had left, he said. Only residents and emergency responders can come onto the barrier island, he said.
On the South Shore in Scituate, Mark Harrington said he always stays at his brother’s house during big storms.
“If we were any farther out in the water, we’d be a boat,” he said as waves crashed against kitchen windows 13 feet off the ground. No worry, he said. The house, raised on 18-inch concrete supports, is sturdy.
“It’s built like a bridge,” he said. A general contractor, Harrington did all the renovations 17 years ago. Ever since, the Harrington brothers have spent every storm in the wooden house by the sea.
“It’s been through all the big storms,” he said, before running out to secure water cooler bottles and a propane tank rolling across the deck.
As water splashed over the sea wall, storm watchers snapped photos and collected discarded buoys.
Lisa Huffman snapped photos of her 5-year-old daughter, Hope, as waves crested in the background and memories drifted back to the tropical storm that lumbered up the East Coast in August 2011.
During Irene, they were able to stand right up against the sea wall and watch the storm. Now, they were separated by about 10 feet of sand. “This seems worse than Irene, doesn’t it?” she asked her daughter, who nodded in agreement.
In Salem, tourism officials are closely monitoring Sandy’s path, but expect Halloween festivities planned for Wednesday to proceed as planned.
“I’m just holding my breath and waiting for the storm to pass,” said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the city’s tourism office.
Sandy didn’t scare Jen and Jon Coil, a married couple staying at the hotel, who traveled from Philadelphia to Salem on Sunday.
“What difference does it make if the hurricane hits us in Philadelphia or Salem?” asked Jen, 30, a paralegal, making her first visit to Salem. “I do wish more things were open today. We were looking forward to visiting some museums.”
Globe staff writers Katheleen Conti, Mark Arsenault, Andrew Ryan, Akilah Johnson, Steven Rosenberg, John R. Ellement and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Joel Brown, David Rattigan, Patrick D. Rosso, Johanna Kaiser, Melissa Werthmann, Evan Allen and Jacqueline Reiss contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.