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Hurricane Bob: 15 years later

A look back at the damage wrought when the 1991 storm slammed into the Northeast

A look back at the damage wrought when the 1991 storm slammed into the Northeast

In the wake of Hurricane Bob in 1991, the boater cruising to Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod and the islands entered a succession of wounded harbors: Onset, Marion, Mattapoisett, Padanaram, Woods Hole, Edgartown, Hyannis.

Boats, like beached whales, littered the shores — hurled by 100 mph winds and high seas into woods and marshes, onto

Read the other story in this package: Is the Northeast due for another hurricane? 

lawns, up on beaches, or against rocks, roads, bridges and breakwaters — even stuffed through piers. Some, which had been grounded in groups, resembled bowling pins knocked every which way.

In all, more than 6,000 boats were damaged or destroyed by Bob in eight states from Maine to North Carolina — 4,000 of them in Massachusetts — with combined losses in excess of $60 million.

To that price tag on vessels was added the $780 million in property damage to dwellings, docks, yacht clubs and waterfront businesses, ranking Bob at the time second only to Hurricane Hugo’s 1989 bill of $4.2 billion.

Evolving swiftly and arriving earlier in the New England hurricane season than any major hurricane before, the storm tore up the East Coast on Monday, Aug. 19, 1991, hitting with particular viciousness (because of their positions to the east of or just west of the storm’s core, where the winds were fiercest) the areas of Narragansett Bay and Block Island in Rhode Island, and Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts.

Two mariners died in the tempest, one from exposure and the other by drowning; beaches were badly mauled; raw sewage spewed into Narragansett Bay; and the states (or parts thereof) of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts were declared disaster locales.

In addition, the topography subsequent to Bob didn’t ring true. Indeed, green seemed banished from the landscape. A false autumn had descended with the salt spray and savage winds desolating verdure. Viewed from the sea, every coast had turned to a dull rust.

Usually a jewel of a port, Hadley’s Harbor on Naushon Island had a spectral look and was informed by an eerie quiet. So brown and withered was Nantucket, you would have sworn a blight had decimated that usually comely gray lady. And great trees were down, not only here, but in Falmouth and Fairhaven and elsewhere.

Most of the activity in these and other anchorages equally ravaged had to do with binding up the wounds inflicted by the storm. In Edgartown most of the moorings were gone, sunk by the blast, and a diver was busy trying to locate them. Everywhere you heard the sound of chainsaws cutting off dead tree limbs; of trucks hauling away debris or repairing power losses; of helicopters (one a special air crane helo from Oregon) whirring over basins and observing the devastation beneath or retrieving stranded craft; of all-terrain and marine cranes and tugs and barges artfully salvaging vessels.

There was little cheer or joy in voyaging through these waters in the aftermath of Bob — only a large hope that seasons to come would be completed without a repeat.

Mary Jane Hayes is the author of the award-winning “Eye on the Sea: Reflections on the Boating Life.”