Life the way Middletowners know it along Sachuest Point was back to normal Sunday morning, with the return of campground residents after a smooth and brief evacuation, fisherman, hikers and tourists returning to the National Wildlife Refuge and water sport enthusiasts found surfing wind and waves.
Second and Third beaches officially re-opened for surfing, swimming and boogie boarding Sunday morning and will remain open Monday as "business as usual" in time for sunny days and mid-70s temps for the remaining days of a beautiful long holiday weekend on the southern coast.
Also open again is Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, which re-opened early Saturday afternoon after closing Thursday when heavy surf that had begun to arrive ahead of Hurricane Earl caused concerns for fisherman and visitors along the Refuge's rocky shoreline.
Seasonal residents of the Second Beach Campground on Sunday morning continued moving back in, after ordered to evacuate all people by Friday afternoon as a precaution for fear of flooding and near-hurricane force winds on Sachuest Point. Many of the camp's 46 tenants had already returned Saturday, beginning soon after town officials assessed the low-lying flood plain for damage and re-opened Sachuest Point Road to all traffic.
Although an emergency evacuation shelter had been set up at the Gaudet Middle School Friday, most campground residents opted to evacuate to the safety of their own permanent residences throughout New England instead, or check in to area motels, according to campground managers. Only one RV owner relocated their 5th wheel RV to the parking lot at the Gaudet school as a precaution.
By Friday afternoon after all campground residents had gone, the police and Public Works Department had closed Sachuest Point Road and all beach lots to all surfers, cars and onlookers for concerns of flooding, dangerous rip tides and 11- to 14-foot waves from Hurricane Earl. In the event an evacuation was needed, police also became concerned over the hundreds of curious onllokers and cars that jam-packed the surfer's lot and adjacent roadways.
Officially on Saturday, the town had kept all town beaches closed to complete post-storm clean-up and severe rip tide advisories, but that didn't deter hundreds of beach goers from taking advantage of the free lot parking for the day, taking a quick dip in the choppy and very windy seas, and surfing some residual big wells from the tail end of Hurricane Earl.
The Middletown Emergency Management team officially re-opened the Surfer's End Second Beach parking lot at 9 am Saturday and the beach's main lot at noon. But the town's Emergency Management automated message alert system issued town-wide Saturday morning advised all would-be surfers, boogie boarders and swimmers: "Anyone entering the water will do so at their own risk."
While hundreds of beach goers blanketed the beach's sandy shore Saturday, dozens of surfers were catching good long rides, but few others were seen swimming in the choppy, windy seas. Kids stayed close to shore in knee deep waters under the watchful eyes of parents.
"No Swim" flags were posted along several areas of the beach that were particularly dangerous and lifeguards were seen manning towers up and down the beach at the ready.
High winds on Saturday also brought out numerous wind sport enthusiasts to cruise Second's Beach's east end for kiteboarding and windsurfing, along with a couple of kite flyers here and there along the shoreline.
Cleanup on the beaches Saturday morning was minimal, town officials said, noting that's why the Second Beach main lot was re-opened by noon.
Between Second and Third beaches, a few lobster pots had washed ashore from Earl's storm surge and heavy surf. Other minor debris was mainly limited to heavy batches of seaweed, the odd scrap of clothing, small rocks and clam shells. Third beach's shoreline seemed much more affected, with large mounds of uneven sands and piles of thick green seaweed lining the normally flat and sandy beach.
No boats had washed ashore at Third Beach, Harbor Master Steve Pontes was pleased to report.
"Of the 30 or so boats, three had remained behind and they're still intact out there which is a relief to us as sure as it is to (the owners)," said Pontes. "Lucky for them the storm this time wasn't too bad. But we're also obviously happy and appreciative to the other boat owners who all heeded our warning and safely removed their boats...This morning we started to see a few returning."
Elsewhere in town, no power outages were reported and the main damage and disruption from the storm remained the water main rupture in Portsmouth that prompted a "boil water" order in Middletown Saturday and severely reduced water pressure to Newport Water customers on Middletown's west side.