Wicked Weather Slams Winthrop:’Bomb Cyclone’ Brings Severe Weather Not Seen Since Blizzard of ’78

Thursday, January 11, 2018
By Transcript Staff

By Sue Ellen Woodcock

A firefighter makes his way through the ice and water on Shirley Street.

With over 13 inches of drifting snow, the last thing Winthrop needed was a tidal surge that flooded over 70 buildings in town, and shut down access to the town from both ends.

“We were definitely surprised to see the level of surge come into the state so quickly and rise so rapidly, and the images were pretty shocking,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito in the Winthrop Fire Department garage, where she visited Friday before touring Pico Avenue,

Polito did say the affective communities will gather information on public infrastructure damage to determine if Massachusetts could qualify for federal disaster aid. Certain criteria has to be met, including that damages exceed $9.6 million across the Commonwealth.

“I pledge to get Winthrop on the path with FEMA,” Polito said, with Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo and state Sen. Joseph Boncore behind her.

Soon afterwards, Polito toured Pico Avenue were she meet with residents impacted by the storm.

Town Manager/Police Chief Terence Delehanty said about 70 buildings were flooded in town and power had to be cut. Vikings Football Coach and head of the Parks and Rec Sean Driscoll, his wife and daughters were among many who had to go to a hotel for a place to stay.

“This is a tough one but one thing about our community is that we come together,” Driscoll told Polito.

DeLeo said he has lived in Winthrop for 55 years, and he was “flabbergasted” at the flooding on the bayside side of town.

“I was astounded at where the water came from,” DeLeo said.

Firefighters had an engine and an ambulance station at Point Shirley, just as a precaution.

“This storm came in from the harbor side not the ocean side,” said Fire Capt. Scott Wiley, who added that the Grandview and Bayview areas of the Point were hit hard. “It appears the renourishment of the beach worked. This storm in particular was ripe for major flooding, and I was sort of holding my breath to see what would happen. This was a real test, although we may have issues with the condition of the beach most importantly it worked.”

In fact, Winthrop Shore Drive and Winthrop Beach did fairly well, thanks to the renourishment project done by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“It appears the renourishment of the beach worked. This storm in particular was ripe for major flooding, and I was sort of holding my breath to see what would happen. This was a real test although we may have issues with the condition of the beach most importantly it worked,” DeLeo said.

Delehanty said the renourishment project had a significant impact on this storm and prevented thousands of people from not having their electricity shut off.

Lewis Lake and the new Miller Field also held up well.

Belle Isle Marsh did not do well, and as a result  an inordinate amount of water was forced onto Morton Street, Pleasant Park and Pleasant Court.

“There was a lot of slush and it just turned into concrete,” Wiley said.

“We are fortunate there were no serious injuries or fatalities,” Boncore said. “As a state and a municipality, we have to look at coastal resiliency.”

In the area of the Atlantis Marina, there were concerns that the condo-building garage would flood, but the water shifted and moved up Tileston Avenue, Wiley said.

“We were pumping basements around the clock, anywhere from three to 7 feet,” he explained. “On an average day we respond to about 12 calls and so far we’ve responded to 150 calls.”

At the peak of the storm, during high tide just after noon, the town of Winthrop was cut off from the world for about an hour. The floodgates at Short Beach had been closed about eight hours before the tide, but tidal waters flowed over the Belle Isle Bridge.

“We were an island for a little bit,” Wiley said.

Town Council President Ron Vecchia toured the effected areas and said all the town departments did an incredible job.

The Medical Reserve Corp., headed up by Jeanne Maggio set up a shelter during the storm at the Cummings School and several people did use it until they found shelter elsewhere.

Two snow days from school was fine for the students, but not so good on the pipes that later burst over the weekend.

DPW crews were able to be out for the storm with the assistance of MassPort and the MWRA. DPW Director Steve Calla had to use the bucket truck to rescue one man.

Flood waters by the Elks Club at River Road were completely impassable just after noontime on Thursday, as were Beacon and Hillside, forcing the streets to be shut off at Delby’s Corner.

At 1 p.m. people at 585 Shirley St. called to be evacuated and a possible electrical fire was reported at 573 Shirley St. Another call went out at 2:38 p.m. for a fire in the basement at 492 Winthrop St.

The Point area was hit hard. The town lost Engine 1, normally stationed on Shirley Street, when it got stuck in water on the Point.

“We had a report, actually numerous calls of a building fire at 586 Shirley St. and the engine went through water deeper than anticipated and stalled,” Wiley said. “It’s been towed to Wakefield to be repaired by Seagrave.”

Polito said one thing she wanted to talk to local officials about was the resiliency of the town and what can be done in the future.

“We have a history of making sure we work together on the federal, state and local level,” DeLeo said.

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