Severe Weather

With lessons learned from Sandy, Westerly more storm ready

(WPRI) — It was late in the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season when an area of disturbed weather formed in the Caribbean Sea, south of Jamaica. The system seemed harmless at first before computer models began to latch onto the idea that what would eventually be named "Sandy" could threaten the East Coast of the United States. 

Sandy strengthened into a hurricane on October 28 and eventually became a Category 2 storm. Every state from the Carolinas to Maine watched Sandy's progress closely.

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The storm made landfall in New Jersey, but Rhode Island was side-swiped by strong winds and large waves. Storm surge flooding and whipping winds devasted coastal communities including the Misquamicut Beach section of Westerly. 

Harry Trefis, is a Misquamicut Beach homeowner. He said the damage was from wave action and flooding, leading to structural damage. 

"There were several buildings that are no longer here now," said Trefis.

Trefis not only saw his home damaged by Sandy, but his business was impacted, too. He owns Bay View Fun Park in the beach community. The business has bumper boats, batting cages, slides and a miniature golf course.

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"There was over four-feet on the front side of the miniature golf course, so that took the brunt of the flow from the beach. There was a lot of sand," said Trefis.

Trefis' family has had property here for decades. His cottage has been here since after the 1954 hurricane. Only a couple of feet off the ground, it survived numerous storms, including Gloria, Bob and yes, even Sandy. 

After Sandy, FEMA Hazard Mitigation grant money became available, paying 75% of the cost of elevating a house out of the floodplain.

Trefis told Eyewitness News,"we raised it 14 feet, and it's  feet out of the floodplain,"

Screw-like shafts were drilled 35 feet underground and secured to the pilings above. Now the living space is 16 feet off the ground. Below that, only storage and cars are allowed.

"It's designed to allow the water to flow underneath rather than taking a direct hit...In the bottom part of the structure are break-away walls, so the water would break them out but the structure would remain in the position it was," according to Trefis.

Smaller windows and hurricane brackets help the building handle hurricane force winds. Utilities have been elevated above the flood plain and any additions to the property will take into account what could happen in a storm, including additions to the business.

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"Our business is an outside business. Everything is outside. We had to do a lot of cleanup in the way of sand removal.  We did have some structural damage.  We did have to replace some equipment.

An inground pool used to house the bumper boats. Now, they bounce around in an above-ground pool which can be taken down fairly quickly. The building, which still shows Sandy's water-line in some spots, is now anchored into concrete. 

If there's anything good from Sandy, it was the timing. It hit off-season for this beach community. Sandy's late-October arrival gave business owners here in Westerly time to clean up.

"It's a tourist area. It's important to the community. It's important to the state of Rhode Island. We wanted to make sure it was ready for the next season," said Trefis.

It was a tremendous effort, but the Bay View Fun Park and many other businesses on this strip were opened in time for the following Memorial Day. The cottage-raising project took three years to complete, and Trefis feels confident that he's ready for the next one.

"There's still clean up. I'm sure they'll be repairs, but at least now it won't be as severe as it was in the past as a result of what we learned with Sandy."


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