Image of the aftermath in Westerly, Rhode Island from the hurricane in 1938.
The New England Hurricane of 1938 (or Great New England Hurricane, Yankee Clipper, Long Island Express, or simply the Great Hurricane of 1938) was the first major hurricane to strike New England since 1869. The storm formed near the coast of Africa in September of the 1938 Atlantic hurricane season, becoming a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale before making landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on Long Island on September 21. The hurricane was estimated to have killed between 682 and 800 people, damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at US$306 million ($4.7 billion in 2014). Even as late as 1951, damaged trees and buildings were still seen in the affected areas. It remains the most powerful and deadliest hurricane in recent New England history, eclipsed in landfall intensity perhaps only by the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635. In 2012 Hurricane Sandy did far more property damage in terms of dollars (despite its lower intensity at landfall); however, the 1938 storm still stands as the second costliest storm to strike New England.
The storm surge hit Westerly, Rhode Island at 3:50 pm EDT, resulting in 100 deaths.
The tide was even higher than usual because of the autumnal equinox and full moon. The hurricane produced storm tides of 14 to 18 feet (5 m) across most of the Long Island and Connecticut coast, with 18 to 25-foot (8 m) tides from New London east to Cape Cod. The storm surge was especially violent along the Rhode Island shore, sweeping hundreds of summer cottages out to sea. Low lying Block Island offshore was almost completely underwater, and many drowned. As the surge drove northward through Narragansett Bay, it was restricted by the Bay's funnel shape and rose to 15.8 feet above normal spring tides, resulting in more than 13 feet (4.0 m) of water in some areas of downtown Providence. Several motorists were drowned in their autos. Due in part to the economic difficulties of the Great Depression, many stores in downtown Providence were looted by mobs, often before the flood waters had fully subsided.
Many homes and structures along the coast were destroyed, as well as many structures inland along the hurricane's path. Entire beach communities on the coast of Rhode Island were obliterated. Napatree Point, a small cape that housed nearly 40 families between the Atlantic Ocean and Little Narragansett Bay just off of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, was completely swept away. Today, Napatree is a wildlife refuge with no human inhabitants. One house in Charlestown, Rhode Island was lifted and deposited across the street, where it stood, inhabited, until it was demolished in August 2011. Even to this day, concrete staircases and boardwalk bases destroyed by the hurricane can be found when sand levels on some beaches are low.
A few miles from Conanicut Island, keeper Walter Eberle lost his life when Whale Rock lighthouse was swept off its base and into the raging waves. His body was never found.
Because of the massive flooding from the 1938 storm, and from the even higher 14.4 foot (4.4 meters) storm surge that resulted from 1954's Hurricane Carol, in 1966 the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier was completed to avoid such extreme storm surges from ever again flooding downtown Providence. Source: 1938 New England hurricane From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaSee also:
Department of Transportation negatives, newspapers and scrapbooksInterim Report: Hurricane Rehabilitation Study, 1954 OctoberThe Governor's Study Committee's Interim Report: R.I. vs. Hurricanes, 1954