By the spring of 2008, the expanding cut — nibbling its way from right to left in this aerial shot — had already claimed nine cottages and was only days from finishing off the last survivors. Most were moved to relative safety several hundred yards to the north, but the second structure from the right, partially buried in sand by a winter storm, was deemed too far gone to save.
By the spring of 2008, the expanding cut — nibbling its way from right to left in this aerial shot — had already claimed nine cottages and was only days from finishing off the last survivors. Most were moved to relative safety several hundred yards to the north, but the second structure from the right, partially buried in sand by a winter storm, was deemed too far gone to save.

When a northeast storm cut a new opening through a barrier beach in the Cape Cod community of Chatham, Mass., in April 2007, owners of seasonal cottages on the narrow strip of sand were dismayed but not surprised: North Beach, as it's locally known, is in a continuous — and sometimes dramatic — state of flux. In 1987, a similar cut two miles to the south left a previously protected expanse of the bay shore exposed to the full force of ocean storms; 10 year-round mainland homes were destroyed as a result.

Despite hopeful predictions that the 2007 cut would fill in over time, it grew steadily wider and deeper through the summer and fall. By late winter, it had swallowed up two structures and forced the teardown of seven others. But in March of this year, Chatham attorney William Hammatt — who owns the northernmost and best-protected cottage on the...

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