The sun was shining and the sky was blue on Friday. Tourists in swimsuits roamed Block Island on rented mopeds and bicycles. 

But at the town boat ramp, locals were queuing up to pull their boats out of the water.  

“Well we just buttoned up the house, and now we’re pulling out the whaler,” said Brian Greenspan, who backed his car up to the water while his brother swam into the Great Salt Pond to the boat to bring it in. “And then we’re gonna run our center console back to Mystic and tie her up on the dock.”

“I got to work around 8am this morning, and it’s been nonstop with the boats getting pulled out,” said Corrie Heinz, who owns Pond and Beyond Kayak, a rental and eco-tour shop next to the boat ramp. 

“This is the only public ramp on Block Island so everyone’s taking their boats out on their trailers and bringing them home. Or they’re coming here, taking their dinghy’s out, and taking their boats back to the mainland,” she continued. 

She was keeping an eye on the forecast, which showed Tropical Storm Henri on track to strengthen into a hurricane before passing Block Island to the west and making landfall on Long Island. 

Heinz grew up on the island and was here the last time a hurricane made landfall in New England -- Hurricane Bob in 1991. She started moving her 60 kayaks and paddle boards Friday morning, and planned to finish up by noon on Saturday.

“My kayak company is located right on the edge of the Great Salt Pond. So I am moving all my equipment to my yard, to the upland - out of this storm surge area.”   

The area between her shop and the salt pond has flooded before. And with the storm coming during a full moon, she’s not taking any chances with the surge. 

“With this storm, it’s definitely gonna happen. It’s just how much it’s gonna happen. I don’t want my boats to float away,” Heinz said. 

Down the street at the Block Island Power Company, president Jeffrey Wright was more worried about the wind. 

He started tracking the storm on Monday, and on Thursday night “our communication really ramped up, and about 8 o’clock I got notice that the hurricane was starting to move further west, which is an alarming trend. The latest models I saw had it trending even further west, which is not good.”

In the northern hemisphere, hurricane winds circle the eye counter clockwise. And for a storm moving northward, the winds are most intense to its east, where the rotation lines up with the overall direction the hurricane is traveling— boosting the wind speeds. Henri’s projected path would put Block Island on the windier side of the storm. Wright worries that could disrupt the island’s main power supply.

“Our lifeline now is the submarine cable to the mainland,” Wright said, and he said it's "probably pretty likely" the cable will go offline in the coming storm.

"The cable will be fine," he said, "but all the lines that feed the cable get fed from Providence and Warwick. And when trees fall because of hurricanes, they fall onto lines and that trips out things like our submarine cables.”

The cable was built along with the Block Island Wind Farm. Up to that point, the island was powered by diesel generators. If the cable goes out, Wright’s ready to turn those generators back on. 

“So right now, our [diesel] tanks are full,” Wright said. “But from the point that the submarine cable goes off and we have to start the generators to feed the island, we’ve got about three days of fuel.”

If that happens, he’ll be counting on either the connection to be repaired, or ferry service to be back up and running to deliver more fuel.  

Anything Wright needs to keep the lights on has to come out on the ferry, including reinforcements. The utility district has just three linemen, so he brought in five contractors from northern Vermont and New Hampshire— along with two extra bucket trucks, a digger and a pickup.

“You know, being the height of the season, there are no rooms available. So this morning at 9 o’clock I did not have rooms for the guys, so I’m bringing them over here on a prayer that I can actually get housing for them,” he said. 

“That has since solved itself because there are enough cancellations. So I’ve got housing for all the guys. The restaurants will do a good job feeding ‘em. We’ve got access to the grocery store if we need it. So I think we’re in pretty good shape. But it’s a logistical exercise we go through every time we have an event like this. And believe it or not, we’re actually getting pretty good at it.”

The New Shoreham police department on Friday urged people to reconsider their travel plan, posting on Twitter, “We do not have an emergency shelter or public safety resources to accommodate visitors during the storm.” Interstate Navigation Company, said on its website that ferry service to Newport is suspended Saturday through Monday. Ferries will stop running to Point Judith late Saturday afternoon, and service is canceled on Sunday. 


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Reporter Sofie Rudin can be reached at srudin@thepublicsradio.org