It was seventy years ago yesterday 9/8/38 that the Long IslandTraveler, better known as the Long Island Express, a strong category 3 hurricane struck the eastern end of Long Island with such force it changed some areas of the Island completely. We had no prior warning, as back then there were no sophisticated weather tracking devices such as doppler radar, weather tracking planes, Etc. and everything in the way of reporting oceanic storms depended on checking barometric pressure and ships at sea. The hurricane developed from a tropical disturbance off the African coast and came speeding up the eastern seaboard at almost 70 mph one of the fastest moving hurricanes on record, which claimed over 650 lives on LI, Connecticut and Rhode Island. If the storm had hit before Labor Day and before the summer residents had gone back to the cities thousands would have probably died when the storm surge swept away most of the beach front cottages along the south shore of the island. The surge was so powerful that seismic detectors in upstate NY thought LI was struck by a small earthquake.
Dawn broke that Wednesday morning with a bright red sunrise and the sky had an eerie yellowish glow. I was a young boy at the time and recall the kids on the playground during the morning recess commenting on the unusual stillness in the air and the yellowish overcast to the sky.
The storm hit in the early afternoon while school, a first through eighth grade, small 3 room building, was in session. During the storm's intensity when huge 100 plus year old trees surrounding the school started toppling, the window glass was flying and part of the roof flew off the building the frightened principal, Mrs.Beebe, a sweet little elderly woman, who taught the 6th through 8th.grades, gathered all the students into a hallway and a corner of her room. I remember peeking out of one of the windows and after seeing the flag pole break off and fly through the air like a piece of straw quickly withdrew and got back into the huddle.
Practically every year during the fall season Long Island had and probably still does have NE gales, called line storms, which pack winds of probably 40-50 mph but nothing like this blowing out of the south had ever been seen or recorded in past weather records.
When the 50 mile wide eye passed over and during the lull we thought the storm was over and a few of us nosey kids ran outside to view the damage but quickly ran for cover when the wind whipped around to the opposite direction and commenced blowing again with almost the same intensity.
My Dad at the time was a yacht captain and during the storm had to scuttle the ship to keep it from tearing apart on the pier pilings during the rising tide.
My mother was worried about us and when the storm was over walked 6 miles to find us at Mrs. Beebe's house, who had taken us home to spend the night. Since my mother refused to spend the night, I insisted on walking back home with her, while my brothers wound up staying with Mrs. Beebe for almost a week before they finally got home. We lived on a small peninsular which was connected to the mainland by a narrow paved causeway and during the storm had become an island till the waters had receded. My mother and I hand in hand started to wade across this narrow causeway in full darkness, where the water in places was up to my neck. If we had strayed off the pavement we would have been in 8 to 10 feet of water and my mother, who couldn't swim a stroke would have drowned and I wouldn't have been ablle to do a thing to save her. We finally made it safely across and after meeting my Dad, who was there waiting for us with a lantern started out for home which was over a mile away. After climbing through, over and under fallen trees we finally got home at 2:AM the next morning.
We were without electricity for over a month and had to sink a well with a hand pump for water.
Dad knew the captain of Vanderbilt's 200 plus foot yacht the Vara, which was docked at a nearby seaport at the time. During the the storm she pulled away from her pier and had to jog into the wind at full steam to keep from being swept backward. The captain told Dad the ship's anemometer broke during the storm by a wind gust that registered 178 mph.
By today's standards, the hurricane did over fiive billion dollars in damage to Long Island, Connecticut and Rhode Island.