Block Island sees little impact from Henri
On Friday, August 20, two days before “Hurricane” Henri was expected – the first hurricane in 30 years to actually make a landing on Block Island, town officials and emergency management were planning for the worst on Block Island.
Members of the Highways Department removed the stairs from the two southernmost “walk-overs” over the revetment to the beach below on Corn Neck Road. An unusual amount of sand had built up at the bases of the stairs, necessitating the use of a bulldozer. Highways employee Joe Pokraka told The Times that a couple of years ago, when the stairs hadn’t been moved, one broke loose and ended up at the other end of the beach during a storm, and had to be rebuilt.
Staff at the Harbors Department made sure visiting boaters that couldn’t leave were safely on moorings, and there were no incidents.
The Block Island Island Power Company brought in crews and trucks from off-island. The police chief got the message out to mainland news outlets warning tourists not to come, and vacationers scrambled to adjust their plans for departures and arrivals.
But Saturday was business as usual – a beautiful beach day. The only sign of something out of the norm was the stream of boats coming out of the water at the boat ramp in New Harbor and the taxi stand by the ferry docks. There, cars formed three lines, several deep, from morning until the last boat out, to get off the island on stand by.
There seemingly were as many extra cars trying to get to the island as leaving, most likely with home renters getting to the island slightly early for a Sunday check-in date, as all of the Sunday boats had been canceled.
As the day wore on, predictions of the storm’s path had the center of Henri moving further west towards, then over, Long Island. Nothing to worry about....then by late evening, on the 10 p.m. news, it was moving back east, the center expected to be somewhere between Block Island and Montauk. By 11 p.m., meteorologists were predicting a direct hit. It could be a category one, and perhaps speed up to a category two.
As night progressed, the faint roar of the ocean churning became louder and closer. But as day dawned on Sunday, Henri had been downgraded to a tropical storm, and the center passed much earlier in the day than expected – at about 10 a.m. As the eye came over, the wind died, the sun came out, and so did residents and visitors to check out the damage.
There was very little. A few downed trees, toppled fences here and there, and a few puddles. No floods, save for the Fred Benson Town Beach parking lot, no island-wide power outages. The Block Island Power Company had three small outages, all restored quickly in the morning. Crews from off-island were at the ready and assisting.
There was one small, very brief island-wide outage at approximately 10:30 p.m. That apparently was National Grid, turning off the cable briefly while they made a repair on the mainland.
The turbines at the Block Island Wind Farm fared just fine. They feather their blades when the wind reaches about 54 mph and stop rotating. Orsted spokesperson Meaghan Wims told The Times: “Ahead of tropical storm Henri, we took our crew vessel Atlantic Pioneer and our crew members off the water to ride out the storm on the mainland.”
The only real casualty was the buoy, BI-1, which washed up on the shore on the mainland.
Once the eye passed over, the wind did pick up, but never enough to send people scurrying indoors. In all, the island perhaps got almost a half inch of rain.
The most exciting event was the emergence of thousands of dragonflies as the eye passed over. Dozens reported them on social media, and the reason is still a mystery. Were they just emerging after a rain to dry their wings? To feast on flying bugs? Or did they somehow get trapped in Henri’s eye? It’s still a bit of a mystery, and they’re still around.