Remembering Hurricane Bob: Was That Really 20 Years Ago?

Carm looks back at one of the most frightening weather events to hit Aquidneck Island in her lifetime.

I have a hard enough time coming to terms with high school and college reunions but this date in history really threw me for a loop:

It was 20 years ago this week when Hurricane Bob touched down on Aquidneck Island. 

I was a mere spring chick at the young age of 27 with a husband of only four years and our first child only a toddler. Our first home was a mobile home in Bay View Park on Connell Highway. It was the summer of 1991 and all was well with the world. That is until the skies turned a scary dark gray and we were all reminded that living on an island can be both beautiful and deadly at the same time.

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Bob made landfall over Newport, RI shortly before 2 p.m. on August 19, 1991 with sustained hurricane force winds between 75 and 100 mph. 

In fact, it was the only hurricane to make landfall that season. It caused a storm surge of 5 to 8 feet with rainfall that measured from 3 to 6 inches. Bob was responsible for six deaths (all in Connecticut) and caused more than 680 million dollars in damage. That’s what we know now. But at the time, all I knew is that I was scared to death for myself, for my family and for my community.

After having survived this historic weather event, I was left with some lasting impressions:

When preparedness turns to reality.  As a New Englander, hurricane tracking became a part of the late spring – throughout the summer – into the fall way of life. No matter how old you were, you expected the meteorologists on the 6 o’clock news to give you the weather outlook and the hurricane report from June to November. I remember a local station making tracking maps available to the public so that we could follow along. That was all well and good until late that summer, after thinking that we might have dodged the proverbial weather bullet. The reports were fast and ominous. Before we knew it, we were stocking up on water, batteries, dry goods and important documents. We were ready to leave at a moment’s notice. 

What would happen with our home? The knots developed in my stomach with the first report and then, of course, the million and one questions. What will happen to our home? How will we clean up? Will there be anything left TO clean up? Will we be safe? Over and over the concerns for our future kept going through my mind like a never ending ticker tape. In my mind, we were still newlyweds with a new baby and a home that was likely to fly away like a scene from the Wizard of Oz. I can still feel those knots today as I think about it.

Evacuation became a reality. Then it happened—the dreaded evacuation announcement. As the winds began to escalate we heard the call to evacuate not only on the radio and on the television but by our very own Middletown Police with loudspeakers attached to their squad cars informing us and our neighbors that it was not safe to stay at home and giving us information as to where we could find safe shelter. We knew these guys personally (as you do in a small town such as ours) and the look of concern on their faces gave us cause to get a move on. 

The calm before the storm. We were lucky to have family nearby, in a safer and higher part of town, to shelter in with. We did not have to take advantage of the shelters made available to us, but in the back of mind I wondered about those who did. It was scary enough to be away from your home and your things. It must have been even scarier to be in an institutional setting knowing that you might not have a home to go home to. This thought stills stays with me to this day post-Bob and post-Katrina. The calm really wasn’t as calm as the stillness in the air made it out to be.

And then Bob hit. Although, I tried not to show it, I was beside myself. All that we had worked for was likely to blow away to a pile of sticks. It felt like you couldn’t help but think of the worst as the skies were so dark, the announcements so threatening and the winds howling like a scene in a horror movie. I am usually a glass-half-full kind of a girl but this event really scared me. We just held on and held on to the desire to make fun of our meteorologists when it was all over, praying that they might have made much ado about nothing. 

The aftermath. But they weren’t whistling Dixie. Bob hit and hit hard with entire trees down, some by their roots, electricity and phone service interrupted, water and millions of leaves everywhere. It looked like a war zone. Yet through it all, my only concern was for my little home; our first home to call our own.  By the grace of all that is good, we drove into our little driveway to find that our home was still in tact. The skirting around the house was damaged; there were tree limbs to be cleared but all in all, we had survived Bob. 

So many years later, I look upon that time in our lives and continue to be thankful that after spending more than half of my lifetime on this beautiful island, we are still safe and still here. And with every passing hurricane season we continue to be mindful of the power that Mother Nature holds with regard to weather. 

We will continue to pay attention to its ebbs and flows and will always respect its strength.

Ernest B Gibbons Jr August 13, 2011 at 05:06 PM
I was about a mile from home doing a contract application for a friend who owned a cleaning business. Two of my sisters-in-law were visiting from Antigua (The West Indies) for the first time to our home. Though the winds were howling and trees were being twisted, I resisted going back. When I finished the application, I left the sub- division and exited into Oliphant Lane. It was quite passable until I got to East Main Road. There, the telephone poles were leaning dangerously close and loose wires weretouching parts of the roadway. I had to drive on the nurseries muddy fringe to getback to Woolsey Road where my anxious wife and her sisters sighed with relief. There was no serious damage to our property except a few shingles blown off.
Angela Lemire August 15, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Hi Ernest. Thankfully the damage was not too bad for your home.
Erik Allen August 20, 2013 at 07:03 PM
We lived in Slate Hill Farm, the highest point on the island (as far as I know). We had power lines down on either side of the entrance to the neighborhood for at least one week. We didn't have power for almost 2 weeks. We were all well water then, and I remember vividly the routine of filling the pots, pans and bathtubs with water once we knew a storm was headed our way. I was a freshman in high school, and remember helping day in and day out with fallen trees in the neighborhood.
ItsJim February 10, 2014 at 12:01 PM
I rode it out on my 46 ft sailboat Amphora, a few yards off Ida Lewis stone pier. She was a ferro cement ketch built by my father and sailed to his home port of Newport from San Francisco. She was strong, I was scared. I lost the dinghy that I had hard tethered to the stern, last I saw it it was making @ 50 mph beeline for Liptons yacht, Shamrock. The dinghy struck a wave and shot straight up in the air. I found hher thee next day and restored it. I had stripped the decks of everything that was removable. The majority of the damage that I saw from my vantage point was by inexperienced anchoring after all boats were made to leave the docks. I had made sure I was stocked with food etc and while the city had no gas, power etc i was situation normal. I was Operations Manager of the Star Clipper Dinner Train in Newport and sailed on from there. I left Rhode island and sailed into the storm known as the Perfect Storm months later. The boat was strong and I was very trusting of her by now. Entered the ICW after Cape Hat and fell in love with this small town in NC called Belhaven. I live there now and still sail all these years later in my 30 ft Catamaran. Lost track of Amphora after selling her in Port St Lucie, Florida. Fair Winds, Jim Crowther


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