On Cape and Plum Island, cleanup continues — with an eye for the next storm

This house, at 38 Fordham Way on Plum Island, was teetering so precariously it had to be demolished today.
This house, at 38 Fordham Way on Plum Island, was teetering so precariously it had to be demolished today.
Newbury Building Commissioner Sam Joslin

Melinda Krasting spent today removing treasured belongings — family pictures, artwork, her dog’s ashes — from her Wellfleet home, which has been condemned and will likely soon be demolished.

Her house once sat 50 feet away from the low-tide mark on a scenic Cape Cod beach. The rash of violent storms that thrashed the coast in February and early March devoured the sand under her house. Now it stands suspended on its pilings, like the proverbial other shoe waiting to drop.

“I’m sitting here in my bedroom looking out the glass sliders and there’s nothing under my feet for 20 feet down,” Krasting said. “Nobody around here has ever seen devastation like this happen so quickly.”

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The 62-year-old was quick to temper her discouraged words with a thought for those still suffering from Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey. They have it much worse, she said.

Krasting is looking for a new location to build again in Wellfleet — away from the ocean — but until then, she is sleeping on sympathetic friends’ couches because her own home, at 180 Cliff Road, is no longer safe.

“Right now I’m putting my blinders on and saying, ‘First things first, I need to get my life out of here,’” she said. “A house isn’t just a container, it’s a receptacle of life.”

And the storms keep coming. Forecasters predict that another blast of harsh weather could dump rain and snow on the state Monday night, bringing with it the now-familiar storm swells that have eroded many coastal areas.

“If we have a few more storms like we’ve had [Krasting’s house] will collapse,” said Richard Stevens, Wellfleet’s building inspector.

Wellfleet has been luckier than beleaguered Plum Island, to the north, where another house was torn down today because of erosion undermining its foundation, bringing the total up to six.

On Tuesday, Harry Trout Jr., 73, watched a bulldozer tear down the fragile remains of his home at 36 Fordham Way in Newbury .

His is one of three Fordham Way homes destined to be pulled down. Three more houses were demolished on nearby Annapolis Way after last week’s storm.

“I had many good memories of raising my children there and their friends,” Trout said. “Those are the piercing feelings. I’m still in shock, I can’t sleep.”

Newbury Town Administrator Tracy Blais is optimistic that no more homes will need to be taken down as a result of last week’s nor’easter. Seven homes in the town are still considered uninhabitable for the time being, though, and 15 more have been impacted — from slight erosion near the foundation to underground septic tanks and wells being destroyed.

Now that all the houses are down, the town of Newbury can finally carry out a volunteer beach cleanup on March 25, Blais said.

While the danger seems to be ebbing on Plum Island, the flattened remains of Trout’s home are evidence that the storms eroded more than just sand.

“When they put the old destructive shovel into it, it bites into everybody,” Trout said.

He was not shy about hiding his bitterness that more was not done to protect the devastated homes from erosion.

“I can go on and on about the different agencies I have to talk to to get permission to get something done,” Trout said.

State Representative Bruce Tarr,has heard the stories of destruction from across his district, which includes Plum Island.

“Folks are looking for a sense of direction,” the Gloucester Republican said. “There’s a feeling that retreating from the water shouldn’t be the only option for their homes to be saved.”

Since Massachusetts is a coastal state heavily hit by storms, Tarr said, it is time for legislators begin a public discussion about innovative ways to protect seaside communities from erosion.

Any measures will come too late to appease Trout, who is now tasked with searching for a new home.

‘I’m 73 going on 74,” he said. “It’s not like I’m going to pick up and start building again.”