Plymouth man recalls almost being swept away by a wave during the Blizzard of 1978

The infamous blizzard that battered and paralyzed Massachusetts 40 years ago resulted in the deaths of 29 people in the Commonwealth.

Scituate, MA - 2/1/1978: Waves hit homes on Peggotty Beach in Scituate, Mass. during a blizzard in February 1978. Five months later the devastation is left behind was still evident, with six houses knocked off their foundations and the beach gone. The house in the center of the photo was driven into the second row of houses and remained there. [Date unknown - estimated to month] [Before frame of before and after - goes with 140604_CB_002] (Dan Sheehan/Globe Staff) --- BGPA Reference: 140604_CB_001
Waves hit homes on Peggotty Beach in Scituate during the 1978 blizzard.Six houses were knocked off their foundations. –Dan Sheehan / The Boston Globe

Forty years ago, Timothy Angley was watching stormy ocean waves lash the seawall near Plymouth’s Long Beach when he was nearly carried away by the freezing water.

The 7-year-old was with his parents, who were occupied with his 4-year-old brother and toddler sister. They had taken a walk during the Blizzard of 1978, which decimated the Massachusetts coast, when he was suddenly knocked off his feet by the surging tides.

“The waves were crashing up over, and they were coming up into the parking lot, sort of creating a wave action across the street that would then go over the side into the river, and the water was pouring down into the river,” Angley said. “A wave came up over and apparently swept me right off my feet.”

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He was swept off the side of Route 3A and down onto the bank of the stormy Eel River.

“I guess I managed to grab onto one of the bushes as I got pulled down,” Angley said. “I’m holding on and the water’s pouring down over the side of the road down into my face and everything.”

Timothy Angley in 1978. —Courtesy of Timothy Angley

Suddenly, a stranger reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling him up from the river bank. Angley, who is now an attorney based in Plymouth, said he and his family went straight home afterward.

“I don’t remember even knowing what the guy’s name was or anything like that,” he said. “I do know that if he hadn’t been able to grab me, I wouldn’t have been able to hold on much longer. As to whether I would have been swept out to sea or Plymouth Harbor — it’s hard to say if I could have grabbed onto something further.”

During the blizzard, tides rose 20 feet above normal and winds howled at 79 miles per hour in Boston and 100 miles per hour in Chatham, according to The Boston Globe. Along the coast, from Revere to Plymouth, entire neighborhoods were overrun by the ocean.

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The blizzard destroyed 340 homes, severely damaged thousands more, and resulted in more than $1 billion in property damage in Massachusetts, according to the Globe. Fifty-four people were killed in the storm across New England.

The 29 dead in Massachusetts included a 5-year-old girl, Amy Lanzikos. The kindergartner was pulled from her mother’s arms when the rescue boat they were in with other neighborhood evacuees capsized in Scituate Harbor. She drowned, along with a public works employee, 62-year-old Edward Hart.

Angley said he and his family lost power during the storm, so they didn’t see the news coverage of the destruction elsewhere in the state until later. But he said he remembers clearly seeing photos of the homes damaged in Scituate.

Angely, now 47, said his family, who had only recently moved to the area the summer before the storm, never went down to watch the waves at the seawall during a storm again.

He said he feels lucky he survived the experience and has respected the havoc that storms can wreak ever since. 

“It’s amazing to be able to go stand on the beach and see the waves crashing 15 feet up in the air and the spray and the wind, but it can turn bad so quickly,” he said. “You just got to be careful. It’s not worth losing your life over.”

Destroyed houses on Minot Beach in Scituate after the Blizzard of ’78. —Bill Brett / The Boston Globe