091417 Hurricane Irma: The end of the walkway
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The steps at Walkway 61 fall into the surf.

Hurricane Irma: The end of the walkway

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The first sign that the walkway is going to collapse is slight. It leans like everything else exposed to the northeast wind. People barely notice as they come to watch the surging tide. They are leaning too.

Walkways don’t snap like trees. They bend, like the one at the end of Powell Lane in Litchfield Beach. It has bent to three storms in three years: Joaquin, Matthew and Irma. The wood was still fresh from the last rebuilding, completed just before the summer visitors arrived.

The high tide beat against the pilings. The foaming ocean scoured sand from around the footings. Timbers and sand fence broken off in the surf farther north crashed into the walkway with each breaking wave.

The crack, when it came, wasn’t any louder than the rushing water or vibrating wood, but it was more definite. It was the sound of stainless steel screws ripping from pine boards. They tore apart just where the old wood met the new.

As the sections of the walkway separated, the lean became a twist. A family arrived to watch the storm, but didn’t venture far. A boy stood at the end of the old deck shouting above the wind as his father recorded a video. In his best storm-chaser voice, he narrated the destruction along the oceanfront before retreating from the wind and horizontal rain.

With the steps turned sideways, each breaking wave twisted them further until they were parallel to the dunes. It didn’t take much force after that. The steps bobbed in the surf at high tide until they broke free and floated away.

“Not again,” said a woman hurrying up from the street for a better look and cradling a can of light beer. “They just rebuilt it. It’s still new.”

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