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Remembering ‘Furious’ Hurricane Bob

The Mattapoisett beach was rebuilt after Hurricane Bob, the last major hurricane to hit Massachusetts, descended on the Bay State in 1991. (Lynn Jolicoeur for WBUR)

BOSTON — The Massachusetts coast hadn’t felt anything like it since Hurricane Carol in 1954. But then, on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 1991, Hurricane Bob came whipping into the state.

CBS News correspondent Harold Dow reported live from Cape Cod, telling a national audience that Bob had arrived with “furious winds and heavy rains.”

On the anchor desk at WCVB-TV, Chet Curtis reported that winds in Edgartown had been clocked at 95 mph early in the storm.

WBUR’s Andy Bowers watched as Hurricane Bob hit land in Falmouth:

“As the winds began to pick up yesterday morning, vacationers and residents waited in long traffic jams leading up to the two bridges that connect the thin peninsula of Cape Cod to the mainland,” Bowers reported during a radio broadcast the next day.

On the Cape, tourists holed up in hotels — one group marveling as the eye of the storm, complete with blue sky, passed overhead.

Destruction On Cove Street

Mattapoisett resident Bill Dumas said police ordered everyone to evacuate Cove Street, the little strip of beachfront where his family owned a cottage, hours before Hurricane Bob arrived. He evacuated his elderly mother from the family’s summer home and headed two miles inland.

“I had friends that lived up on the point that were calling my house in town every half hour on the half hour, kept saying, ‘We’re hanging in there, we’re hanging in there,’ ” Dumas recalled Thursday. “Then the final call was the beach had been wiped out — along with our house.”

Dumas said only three of the 28 or so beachfront cottages on their little street survived the winds and waters of Bob.

His wife, June Dumas, said she’ll never forget seeing her elderly neighbor return there after the storm.

“She saw her place was gone, and she ended up having a heart attack and passing away. So that was devastating,” June Dumas said.

This file image shows Hurricane Bob as it approaches New England. (Wikipedia)

“Boats were in the middle of the street,” remembered neighbor Sandy Morgan. “Down at Crescent Beach, houses were in the middle of the road.”

Morgan said the winds and storm surge swept two feet of sand across the entire street. And residents saw virtually no sign of most of the houses that had been there just that morning.

“You couldn’t even see the remnants of any homes,” Morgan said. “Nothing was here. I don’t know where everything went. All blown away. There would be one toilet, or there would be one brick.”

“We were going crazy for days in advance, knowing this hurricane was coming up the coast,” said meteorologist Mark Rosenthal, who worked at WCVB-TV in 1991. He said Bob’s saving grace was that it hit to the south and east, sparing most of the state from a major blow.

“It certainly lived up to its expectations for Cape Cod and the islands,” Rosenthal said. “But once you got up to Boston, it was just an old-fashioned nor’easter with a lot of wind, a lot of rain.”

The following day, Aug. 20, state leaders assessed the impact, as WBUR host Lisa Mullins reported:

“During the storm, Gov. [William] Weld was in Seattle attending the National Governors Conference,” Mullins said. “While he was away, Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci handled the situation from the state’s emergency bunker in Framingham.”

Cellucci announced authorities had evacuated approximately 65,000 people at that point, and about 5,000 people were staying in emergency shelters. A half-million people were without electricity, according to the lieutenant governor.

Awaiting Irene

Back on Cove Street in Mattapoisett, the sound of seagulls, a strong but pleasant breeze and the calm waters of Buzzards Bay lapping on the shore gave no hint of Irene’s potential arrival Thursday. And no remnants of Hurricane Bob remain. Within a few years of Bob, property owners had built mostly year-round homes where the cottages had stood.

Every house has a name. One of them is called “Serenity.” Another bears the name “What a View.” And one of the few that managed to stand up against Bob sports a sign that reads “Lonely Survivor.”

The rebuilt homes sit much stronger than they used to, on thick cement pilings that go 15 feet deep into the ground and rise at least 15 feet above it.

But residents on Thursday were hauling away belongings kept in lower-level garage-type storage areas that could get inundated with water. June and Bill Dumas were boxing up the most important items in their house.

“Photo albums, pictures, anything that has sentimental value that can’t be replaced,” June Dumas explained. “We haven’t had a hurricane since we built back with Hurricane Bob, so we have no idea. The foundation will be here, but I don’t know about the house.”

Residents along this stretch of Massachusetts coast are preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best, 20 years after Bob’s fury.

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