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Massachusetts Hit Hard By Winter Storm

Jan 5, 2018
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The winter storm that worked its way up the East Coast this week brought more than just snow to New England. Many communities along the coastline there are dealing with major flooding. From member station WGBH in Boston, Craig LeMoult reports.

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: Up and down the Massachusetts coastline, communities saw icy, cold Atlantic waters racing through the streets and into homes and businesses. At The Landing Restaurant, which sits over the harbor in Marblehead, Mass., less than 20 miles up the coast from Boston, general manager Robert Simonelli says they opened hatches in the floor to relieve some of the pressure from the waves pounding from below. A video shows the water rushing down a hallway in the restaurant.

ROBERT SIMONELLI: One of them just hit. There was about a 2-foot wave, came into the kitchen. One of my cooks behind the line was there dancing on the saute station, so we had to get him out of there pretty quick.

LEMOULT: Simonelli says he'd seen water come in the restaurant before, but never like this. That's because the tide broke records. Hayden Frank is with the National Weather Service.

HAYDEN FRANK: That was the highest ever recorded since official records began in the early 1920s.

LEMOULT: An unusually high astronomical tide coincided with the strongest winds of the storm. Further down the coastline, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker visited the coastal town of Scituate today. He was shown where the force of the waves broke through a sea wall, allowing water to rush into the town.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is the water coming in.

CHARLIE BAKER: This is literally, like, where we're standing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is actually from the chief's home - just behind us is right - he's right up - so it's from the home right across the street.

BAKER: OK. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But it's showing...

BAKER: But it's coming up the - it's coming straight to here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right straight through there. Yeah.

BAKER: Jesus.

LEMOULT: Governor Baker says it's important to learn from storms like this and make adjustments.

BAKER: Let's face it, folks. This is just one more statement about the fact that it's really important for us to put time, money and resources into resiliency and adaptability.

LEMOULT: In Boston, the Seaport District, which is one of the hottest places for development right now, was one of the neighborhoods underwater during the storm. Many of the newer developments there are designed with resiliency in mind. Those buildings have raised foundations and critical infrastructure placed on higher floors. But Kathy Abbott at the nonprofit group Boston Harbor Now says more needs to be done to get ready for this kind of thing.

KATHY ABBOTT: We have to deal with the existing development as well as the infrastructure, which I think people are really beginning to focus on in terms of our transportation, our roadways, our utilities, our communications. All of it needs to be adapted.

LEMOULT: And that's likely to become more and more necessary. Kirk Bosma is a coastal engineer with the Woods Hole Group, which has been studying climate change and extreme weather events as a consultant for the city of Boston. Bosma says their computer models predicted this kind of thing, but not quite yet.

KIRK BOSMA: It does give us a little bit of a sneak preview into the future. This storm kind of looks a lot like what we're seeing for results in kind of our 2030 sea level rise climate change picture.

LEMOULT: And while the year 2030 may still sound like the distant future, it's worth remembering that's only 12 years away. For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Boston.

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