, Gloucester, MA

June 3, 2008

No Safe Place

Andrea Higgins

MANCHESTER -- Police photographer Richard Towle was determined to stay a safe distance away while capturing the raging seas of last week's storm on film. Be carefully avoided the beach and stayed near the Singing Beach bathhouse.

"All I know is I thought I was safe and the next thing I knew I felt water at my feet. It was moving at a pretty good clip, and I ended up inside the bathhouse with a door on top of me," Towle said.

On Thursday morning, Towle was recovering at his summer home in Weymouth, with more than 100 stitches in his leg and bandages on his head.

"Needless to say my video camera is not in too good shape," Towle said." He said he was trying to salvage the film, but wasn't sure it could be done.

Towle said he didn't sustain any broken bones, but if anyone wanted to take his picture, "I'd make a beautiful sight."

Towle, who takes photographs for town records, said in the past two big storms, including Hurricane Bob, he took pictures and thought if there was damage from this one, the town would undoubtedly have to apply for relief funds.

"I said to myself, I'm going to be safe. The next thing I knew...," Towle said.

He said the mammoth wave hit him at about 4:45, just at high tide, when it was still light out."

"I just remember getting swept off my feet. I didn't black out. All of the sudden I looked up and I could see a fluorescent light. I thought water and electricity and I got out of there. Somebody gave me a towel for my head," Towle said.

Not knowing how badly injured he was, just that his pants were nearly ripped off, he drove all the way from Singing Beach to a friend's house on Bridge Street.

Friends promptly took him to the emergency room at Beverly Hospital, where he said a nurse told him, "Well, you're not the only one, but you're the best beat up."

"Why I'm alive, I don't know," Towle said.

"This that I do for the town is for the love of it. I was trying to stay out of everybody's way. Afterwards I was going to go to White Beach and try to hook up with (Police Chief Ronald Ramos). Needless to day, I didn't."

Towle's brother amateur meteorologist Donald Towle said he knows of several people, including a 10-year-old girl, who "mis-estimated" the size of some of the waves."

"In a situation like that, a lot of waves that come in are about the same size. Every once in a while you have one come in from one direction, and another from the other direction.

"They meet and phase together so that the energy of two waves become one wave and they can be three or four feet higher," he said. "It's like a ricochet action when they join together."

Towle said he was a little embarrassed that the intensity of the storm took him off guard.

"I don't make the headlines very often. I'll be more careful next time."