Hurricane of 1938: The Worst In Memory With PM-Gloria Bjt
Sep. 27, 1985
NEW YORK (AP) _ Pat Shuttleworth still remembers staring up at the seaweed that drooped from utility wires the day after the great hurricane of 1938.
In the intervening years, Atlantic hurricanes have raked New York City and its Long Island suburbs at least once a decade. The worst included Carol and Hazel in 1954, Donna in 1960 and Agnes in 1972.
But in terms of deaths, property damage and natural force, none measured up to the unnamed hurricane that attacked the Northeast coast with little warning the afternoon of Sept. 21, 1938.
The storm was first spotted by ships in the South Atlantic on Sept. 18. It hit Cape Hatteras, N.C., at 7 a.m. on the 21st and rampaged northward along the coast into New England bearing winds clocked at more than 180 mph.
New York City escaped the worst of the storm's ferocity, although the city was lashed by heavy winds that damaged docks and left 10 people dead. Long Island, where New York's rich had been building their beach houses for decades, caught the full force of the hurricane.
The final toll across seven states was more than 600 dead and property damage of $500 million. On Long Island, sparsely settled then compared with now, hundreds of homes and dozens of lives were lost.
The island was forever changed, with inlets opened and dunes destroyed.
Hardest hit was Westhampton Beach, which includes a section of the long barrier island that lies below the main body of Long Island. The toll there was at least 28 dead and at least 150 homes destroyed.
Virtually all the homes that were destroyed were on Dune Road, where 10- year-old Pat Shuttleworth was attending a children's birthday party the afternoon of Sept. 21. As the storm blew in, the mother hosting the party tried telephoning parents of the guests, but phone lines were already out.
As the house they were in began to break up, Mrs. Shuttleworth recalls, the children were taken to a nearby home that appeared to be withstanding the storm. There, with about 15 others, she spent the night.
Mrs. Shuttleworth, who now presents slide shows and lectures about the great hurricane on Long Island, remembers the ''storm surge'' - a wall of water resembling a tidal wave - as it breached the dune between the house and the Atlantic Ocean.
''We were terrified,'' she said. ''I was 10, and the rest of the children were 6, 7 and 8. When the surge came over the dune, the adults said, 'Don't let the children see.' But of course we all ran to the window and saw it, and we began to cry.''
That night, she and the others moved from the first floor of the house to the second, and finally the third, as the water rose.
''For two hours during the hurricane, there was no difference between the Atlantic Ocean and the bay behind us - the Moriches Bay,'' she said. ''They were just one body of water.''