HARWICH — Damage from the tornado that hit last week has been estimated at $3.2 million, including the loss of more than 3,000 trees along public ways, parks and conservation lands.
The good news is there were no major injuries or major structural damage to homes and building, Town Administrator Christopher Clark told selectmen Monday night.
The tornado that struck shortly after noon on Tuesday, July 23, brought 110 mile-an-hour winds and cut a path of destruction 2.7 miles from just west of Harwich Center along Route 39 into East Harwich. Trees were snapped, twisted and scattered across the landscape throughout a major portion of the town. Power was lost to 93 percent of the residents at one point.
But recovery came quickly with the diligent work of the department of public works, public safety departments and town staff. The quick response from Eversource was greeted with a lot of praise from local officials over the past week.
Police Chief David Guillemette said Eversource provided three representatives in the emergency management center who stayed until the power was back on. Eversource had 340 people on the ground by the next day, Clark said. By Friday, MEMA reported power restoration has been substantially complete.
“There were areas of town we couldn’t get to,” Fire Chief Norman Clarke said. “We had 10 minutes to figure out what we were going to do and it was handled with professionalism. The town staff did a great job.”
Clarke said he was at his home off Long Road when the tornado hit. When he tried to get back to headquarters, Long Road was covered with trees.
“I called the water department and a minute later there was a front-end loader clearing trees off the road,” the fire chief said.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the personnel in the police and fire departments,” Guillemette said of the operations conducted in response to the tornado. “It was a tremendously smooth operation. I thought it was going to take weeks to clean up. It’s been six days and the majority of the work has been done.”
The board of selectmen voted a state of emergency, and Gov. Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency were quick to respond, providing numerous resources to assist in the aftermath.
Teams of personnel and equipment were quickly dispatched to assist with removal of debris from public ways. Among those resources were the Massachusetts National Guard, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Department of Fire Services, Department of Transportation, the state Water Resources Authority, Department of Correction and MEMA. DPW staff from several communities along the South Shore were also dispatched to assist with clean up.
Baker and his staff were here on Wednesday, and on Friday federal and state officials gathered with local officials at town hall. On hand were Senator Edward Markey, Congressman Bill Keating, state Speaker of the House of Representatives Robert DeLeo, Senator Julian Cyr, and State Representatives Sarah Peake, Tim Whalen and Will Crocker.
Markey and Keating said they would do everything they could to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency on board and push for disaster funding. On Tuesday, Baker announced economic support for businesses through a $1 million emergency loan fund as well as supplemental funding for a new marketing campaign to bolster the recovery of the Cape Cod region.
“The Cape’s small businesses play a vital role in the local community, and we are here to support efforts for them to reopen and operate during the high season with the help of this new emergency loan fund,” Baker said in a statement. The new $1 million Cape Cod Small Business Emergency Loan Fund will provide emergency capital to local small businesses to assist with operations and repairs. Loans are immediately available to eligible businesses with no payments for 30 days. Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation capitalized the fund and will administer it, partnering with Capital Corporation and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce for outreach and to address local needs.
Within 36 hours after the tornado struck the roads throughout town were cleared to the point where one would not know 1,300 trees had covers public ways. DPW Director Lincoln Hooper said as of Friday morning all roads were open and his department and state resources were removing hanging branches.
“I’m extremely thankful from the bottom of my heart for all the assets the state and governor sent,” Hooper said. “ An immense amount of work got done. It was difficult to manage, but a lot of work got done.” He praised the work of Deputy Police Chief Kevin Considine, Deputy Fire Chief David LeBlanc, and Chris Nickerson and Richard Berube of the DPW, whose coordination and ability to allocate resources was, he said, “spectacular.”
A 1 p.m. on Sunday, Hooper said, the state assets pulled out of town. There remained a couple of tree service companies the town was employing. Mayer Tree Service was working to clean up the hollow at Brooks Park, which suffered a devastation of trees. Hooper said the company did the major work at Cranberry Golf Course, which lost 200 trees. “They cleaned up the golf course in a day with the equipment they have. I would have been in there for two weeks,” Hooper said.
The golf course remained closed this week. The closure is causing severe revenue loss, Clark told selectmen Monday night. The course will be closed until Thursday, when nine holes will open. Low-hanging branches are still being cut down and golfers can go into the woods to retrieve errant balls under those conditions, he said.
With labor, tree removal, stump grinding and new trees added to the loss in golf fees, the municipal course will lose $500,000, according to the town's estimate of the financial impact of the tornado.
The cemeteries also took a serious hit, Cemetery Administrator Robbin Kelley told selectmen Monday night, with more than $300,000 in damage. She said more than 400 trees were lost and gravestones were damaged. Island Pond Cemetery would remain closed through Wednesday, she said.
With an estimated 3,000 trees down on public property and many more on private property throughout the town, there has been a constant line of vehicles disposing of trees and debris at the town’s landfill. Clark said there has been an estimated 29,000 cubic yards of debris delivered to the composting site.
Hooper said homeowners are placing debris from private property along the roads, but should take care of debris on their own and not expect the DPW to cart it away.
Front end loaders and an excavator have been compacting the pile of wood debris at the landfill. Clark said one contractor has estimated the cost of removing and disposing of the 29,000 cubic yards of material at $145,000.
“It’s been a lot of time since I’ve worked a 70-hour week. It’s been since I’ve been the director,” Hooper said of the events over the past week. “But my staff has worked even longer hours. They deserve a lot of praise.”
Brooks Free Library Director Ginny Hewitt praised the town for approving funding for a generator at the library this past year. Without it the facility would not have been open in the immediate aftermath of the tornado.
“It was place of normalcy for the people,” Hewitt said. “People packed in on Thursday. The internet was a big draw.”
Hewitt said if a federal disaster is declared a Disaster Recovery Center will open, possibly at the library. Absent that declaration, the state might consider locating a center there as a central location for recovery information. Hewitt said her staff has been gathering that information and created a webpage at www.brooksfreelibrary.org/reference/disaster-recovery-resources/.
The community center also served as a valuable resource for residents. Community Center Director Carolyn Carey said there was a recreation camp in the gymnasium when conditions worsened and everyone was moved from the gym into the interior locker rooms. Council on Aging Director Emily Mitchell also directed seniors into the locker rooms.
Both Carey and Mitchell praised the work of their staff. Carey added the young adults serving as counselors for the recreation camp were very professional. From that moment on, Carey said, it got extremely busy at the center, which has a generator. Residents were coming in to use the showers and charge electronic devices. Town Chef Linda St. Pierre also did an incredible job of feeding more than 100 people working in the emergency management center, Carey said.
On Monday night selectmen provided a confirmation vote on the state of emergency declaration. The board also voted to extend the exemption of brush fees for all residents using the composting site to Aug. 12.
Selectmen also voted to authorize deficit spending and borrowing if necessary, and approved a $1 million emergency appropriation to cover costs associated with the tornado. The board agreed if funds are necessary to place an article in the next town meeting defining whether those funds would come from taxes or borrowing.
Clark also said the finance committee voted to authorize spending up to $50,000 from the 2020 reserve fund for storm-related costs. He said the funds would be used to pay tree service companies which assisted in the post-tornado clean up.
Clark pointed out to obtain the a federal disaster declaration, Barnstable County would have to show $9.6 million in damages related to the tornado. If a declaration is made by President Trump, towns would get a 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA.