Arasimowicz, Anne - Hurricane of 1938 remembered
Anne Wall (Arasimowicz) recalls the eastern seaboard hurricane of 1938, as told to the Fishers Island Gazette Newspaper.
Fishers Island Gazette 10
FISHERS ISLAND RETROSPECTIVE
HURRICANE OF '38 REMEMBERED
The morning of September 21,1938 broke overcast with a suggestion of some stormy weather to come. But it seemed like a normal end of summer day.
Anne Wall and Helen Best were working at the Fisher's Island Farms office. Bob White, then ten years old, was enjoying one of the final days of summer.
As the morning progressed, Mrs. Wall noticed with concern as the skies turned darker and darker and as the wind picked up dramatically. By noon, that wind was blowing a gale. "An old elm tree came down right next to the office on the village green. " Mrs. Wall said. "Mr. Shanklin, the office manager, said we should head for home."
"I did not realize it was so bad until that tree came down, Ms. Best added.
Actually, no one knew the storm would be so severe. In fact few people knew a storm was coming because weather forecasters at that time rarely tracked storms at sea.
"We were absolutely unprepared for it." said Bob White. "It really blew like hell. The wind was so noisy, you could not hear anything else."
At its height in mid-afternoon, the wind reached 120 miles per hour with gusts up to 186 miles per hour. More than 600 people were killed by the storm along the East Coast, with 14 reported dead in the New London area. A skipper of one Fishers Island yacht took his boat out of West Harbor to ride out the storm and was never heard from again, according to Islanders.
Helen Best remembers staring out the window at the destruction, "We had four beautiful blue spruces in the yard, they all came down."
The hurricane struck at high tide flooding low-lying areas of the Island. One boat was beached with a shaken crew half way across the parade ground in the fort area. The storm sent waves surging up to the old rail tracks at the Hay Harbor Golf Course.
"It wasn't the wind that worried me, it was the water." said Mrs. Wall. "We were all frightened that we were going to get tidal waves. We thought the island would be covered."
Long Island, fortunately, provided just enough protection so no tidal wave struck Fishers Island. However, Watch Hill, just miles to the East, was not so lucky. Scores of people were swept away in the prodigious surf that pounded the Rhode Island coastline.
About 4pm, Bob White remembers the eye of the storm passing directly over the island. It was calm just long enough for him and some members of his family to reach the Mansion House, which was the only house with power because of a generator.
The storm returned, and only abated in the early evening, finally moving off in the middle of the night. The next morning emerged unbelievably clear.
"What a beautiful thing to see. The sky was so clear," said Mrs. Wall. "It was the nicest feeling. I don't know whether it was because we were breathing a sigh of relief that we were okay."
Only the day after did Islanders realize the extent of the damage. Trees were down throughout the island. A couple of roofs had been blown off and the steeple of St. John's had toppled over. Many of the boats on the island had just disappeared. The damage was much worse in New London, where the hurricane had touched off a massive fire on Bank Street which destroyed a number of buildings. A freighter had been thrown up on the railroad tracks.
Ferry service was not resumed to Fishers Island for many days and electricity was not fully restored for more than a week.
Ray Doyen was visiting relatives in Northern Connecticut. Roadways and travel were in such disarray; it took him a week to return to the island.
Helen Best summed up the experience best.
"That storm was a lollapalooza."
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