By Rebecca Keister
PBN Staff Writer
For residents and businesses owners in the Misquamicut Beach area of Westerly, Hurricane Sandy was, in a word, devastating.
In the aftermath of the so-called “Frankenstorm” that hit hardest in New York and New Jersey but wreaked havoc along Rhode Island’s coastal towns, the beach was left eroded and several beloved restaurants and hotels that long served village residents were left in shambles.
“It’s pretty bad. Misquamicut was the hardest hit in the whole state. Some of our landmark places are half destroyed,” said Caswell Cooke, a Westerly town council member and executive director of the Misquamicut business association. “Sam’s Snack Bar was just wiped out, like gone. Atlantic Avenue probably has 5 feet of sand on it. [It’s like] you see [only] the top of a stop sign when you go on the street.”
Cooke, who co-owns the Seafood Haven Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, spoke about the area on Oct. 30, the day after Hurricane Sandy brought wind gusts of up to 86 mph to the area and in the midst of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s tour of South County communities.
The storm left millions without power from the Carolinas to New England and by late last week was believed by authorities responsible for at least 80 deaths.
IHS Global Insights, a global economic-forecasting firm, estimated that the hurricane’s damage could total $20 billion to property and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business among the areas it hit.
In Rhode Island, nearly 116,000 residents lost power during the storm that virtually shut the state down for two days and had officials still calculating financial damage late last week.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Oct. 31 approved the quick release of $3 million in emergency relief funds for Rhode Island, which Chafee’s office said would be used to begin repairing damaged sea walls and supporting roadways. Rhode Island will be eligible for additional aid for infrastructure repairs.
Chafee declared Westerly to have suffered the worst damages. But beyond the state’s coastal towns, he said Rhode Island was largely spared from major storm damage. Local businesses and business-community leaders attributed that to a mix of luck and lessons learned from past storm disasters.
Few Rhode Islanders have forgotten the devastating March 2010 historic flooding that shuttered businesses trapped underwater and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure damage. The Warwick Mall was closed for five months.