Ongoing cleanup efforts in shoreline communities continued Saturday as families and neighbors picked through the remains of Hurricane Sandy.
Among the close-knit group of cottage owners at Hawk's Nest Beach in Old Lyme was Walter and Denise Jacobson, who sidestepped debris with a representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They peered through a hole in the side of their cottage.
Their summer retreat was destroyed in the storm, lifted off its pilings during the storm surge and dropped several feet away. The move tore off a portion of the wall that was attached to the chimney and left a hole where a pile drove through the floor.
"Before (Sandy) hit, I took a few things. We survived Irene. I thought, 'Hey, it's going to be OK,'" Walter Jacobson said.
He arrived with friends Tuesday to a heart-wrenching scene of destruction, but also to a crowd of people ready to help move his belongings. He became emotional while talking about the effort by neighbors on the day after the storm.
"There were 30 or 40 people here within a half an hour, a brigade of volunteers," he said. "The support, there's no way to describe it. It's the kind of community it is. We all help each other."
Many of the accolades were aimed at the Garvin family, who run the association and rent about half of the 100 cottages.
The Garvin family kept busy clearing the streets of sand and debris while offering meals and support where needed. Association President Sandy Garvin said most of the cottages closest to the water lost either siding, porches or the pilings supporting the homes above the ground. In some cases, there was a question about the structural integrity of the buildings.
But she said there has been an outpouring of support and camaraderie from cottage owners.
"Everybody's pulled together," she said. "We'll do OK. We'll get through this."
Farther south, in the Old Lyme Shores community, Tina and Carl DeLeo arrived Saturday with a caravan of pickup trucks to their two cottages off Sea Spray Road.
The group of friends and family tore up rugs, furniture and mattresses that felt like they had retained 10 times their weight in water. Outside, a Dumpster in the driveway was quickly filled with their belongings.
"It's bad, really bad," Tina DeLeo said. "We lost everything. Every stitch of furniture. It's a little disheartening after a while. I don't know if I want to do this again."
She called the cottages the family's "summertime fun place," where her children and grandchildren go throughout the summer to relax and get away.
Across the street, 82-year-old Frank Farrelly had three generations of helpers, which included his son and grandson, working to remove sand from around the beachfront home, which is his year-round residence.
His home was built on pilings high enough to allow water to flow underneath. While the home survived water damage, several backhoes spent the day digging sand out from under and around the home.
"This is the worst I've ever seen it in my life, and I hope to never see it again," Farrelly said.
In Westerly, Tom Beaudoin, who has a summer home on Benson Avenue, was out for a walk and a cigar Saturday afternoon on Atlantic Avenue. He looked out at Benson Beach - next to the ravaged Andrea Hotel - and saw piles of debris sprawled everywhere.
"I have somebody's freezer in my yard," Beaudoin said. "This storm packed a punch. I don't think anyone appreciates how big an impact it has until it happens."
100 homes damaged
At least 100 homes in the beach front area were damaged, and about 10 other structures were demolished by the storm, according to local officials.
Property owners and their contractors were allowed into the Misquamicut Beach community Saturday afternoon, when Atlantic Avenue continued to resemble a construction yard. Massive bulldozers and dump trucks moved throughout the street and removed countless pounds of sand. Police circled the area to keep pedestrian traffic to a minimum.
On side streets, people were busy draining water from their basements and first floors, cleaning up debris and trudging through piles of leftover mud. One family used a kiddie swimming pool to transport tree limbs to the curb.
Linda Ahlstrand, who bought a summer home 27 years ago in Westerly on the corner of Crandall and Atlantic avenues, has watched the house, with its ocean view, endure other hurricanes over the years. Still, the epic winds and surging waves of Sandy had her worried the days were numbered for her cozy summer spot.
"This year, I really thought this was it," Ahlstrand said.
The house ultimately survived intact, but with 2 feet of sand stacked in a huge pile in the front yard. Ahlstrand and many of her neighbors spent much of Saturday surveying damage and making arrangements to recover from Sandy's wrath.
Misquamicut Fire Chief Louis Misto said it may be another two days before the general public is allowed back to Atlantic Avenue.
He also called on those returning to the beachfront community to use caution as they make their way around. Misto knew from first-hand experience; early Saturday, he stepped on a nail stuck in a loose piece of debris.
Nearly a week after Sandy hit, the storm's damage continues to be felt, the chief said.
"I've been here 45 years, and I haven't seen anything like it," Misto said. "The chaos factor is slowly decreasing every day as we get people in. At the same time, we're trying to balance getting people to their properties with keeping people safe."