Onlookers retreat from the beach as Hurricane Sandy hits Seacoast
Just a few hours after families walked along the water in Hampton Beach and daredevils stood on the rocks and watched the storm roll in, onlookers took to their cars or sheltered surfaces in the late afternoon yesterday as Hurricane Sandy hit the Seacoast and turned the same beach dark and desolate.
But even as the superstorm went from bad to worse, some people couldn’t bring themselves to leave the coast entirely. Whether they watched directly from the beach earlier during the day, or from cars as the wind worsened and whipped the sand across the air, people drove from more than 30 minutes away to witness one thing: Mother Nature at work.
“We’ve been waiting all our lives to do this,” said Colleen Gagne, 45, as she stood on the beach around 2 p.m. “It’s beautiful — it’s Mother Nature.”
Earlier in the afternoon, the beach was windy but still walkable. Young couples, groups of friends and even families with small children walked along the beach clutching at the hoods of their rain jackets or holding their arms out as they struggled to walk into the wind. The rain hadn’t hit yet, but the wind was kicking up water from the waves creating a mist.
Jean Coady, of Bradford, brought her children Andrew, 10, and Callie, 12, to experience the weather before it became too dangerous. Going to the beach is one of the family’s favorite activities, and they frequently go in the rain and snow, she said.
“We had to come out and get a peek before it gets dark and dangerous,” she said.
Some onlookers found a more daring way to witness the storm. A group of young men, for example, stood on the concrete walls at the edge of the beach, while another group climbed down into a group of sharp rocks that were being smashed by waves. Danny Polerleau brought his daughters, Dakota, 8, and Keegan, 4, to see the storm. He lifted their heads above the concrete walls so they could see the waves roll in.
But as the afternoon got later and the winds began to reach their peak, the sky got darker and the waves grew taller and rougher. The winds also picked up, and a Route 101 marking sign swiveled quickly back and forth while traffic lights bounced up and down. The mist from the water turned into rain, which began to gather at street corners. Along Route 111, the water had risen up around the bases of some telephone polls, but had not flooded the road by about 4 p.m.
On the other side of Ocean Boulevard, the water in Hampton Bay was rising. Philip Crowell went to get the motor and paddle out of his small boat on the dock behind Hampton Harbor Tackle before the water potentially filled his boat.
Many stores along the coast were closed, but some gas stations and convenience stores remained open. Stephanie Nickles, an employee at one gas station, said the store was selling as much gasoline as it would at its peak in the summer season. The storm wasn’t as bad as some winter storms she had seen, she said.
Later, at the same spot on the beach, only two girls ran along the water, while others stood up underneath a shelter. The sand stung faces and hands as it whipped up in gusts, and when the girls came back from the water, their entire backs were coated in sand. Although most stores along Ocean Boulevard were closed, only a few power lines had fallen and people were still driving along the road.
Although the temperature was getting colder and the wind harsher, Amy Higgins, who stood under a shelter with her husband and daughter, gave a reason for coming out to see the storm that was echoed by many others throughout the day. “It’s a one in a lifetime opportunity.”