Experts now believe that after Miami and New Orleans, New York City is considered the third most dangerous major city for a hurricane disaster. The hurricane of 1938 caused almost 400 deaths. ARTKABINETT members are hopeful that modern protocols of evacuation and safety can prevent similar tragedies during today's storm, and in the future.
According to a 1990 study by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the city has some unique and potentially lethal features. New York's major bridges such as the Verrazano Narrows and the George Washington are so high that they would experience hurricane force winds well before those winds were felt at sea-level locations.
Therefore, these escape routes would have to be closed well before ground-level bridges (Time, 1998). The two ferry services across the Long Island Sound would also be shut down 6-12 hours before the storm surge invaded the waters around Long Island, further decreasing the potential for evacuation.
A storm surge prediction program used by forecasters called SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes) has predicted that in a category 4 hurricane, John F. Kennedy International Airport would be under 20 feet of water and sea water would pour through the Holland and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels and into the city's subways throughout lower Manhattan.
The report did not estimate casualties, but did state that storms "that would present low to moderate hazards in other regions of the country could result in heavy loss of life" in the New York City area (Time, 1998).
Given public complacency, the amount of people needed to evacuate, the few evacuation routes off Long Island, and the considerable area affected by storm surge, more lead-time is needed for a proper evacuation than in other parts of the country.
However, east coast hurricanes are normally caught up in the very fast winds aloft, called the jet stream, so they can move up the coast at great speeds - much faster than hurricanes that impact the southern U.S.
Surviving "Day One" of the hurricane is only part of the concern. Most people away from the coast believe that they are far enough inland to be safe from hurricanes. In one sense that is true for the immediate effects of the hurricane.
However, most of these inland residents fail to realize that their daily lives will be severely impacted for weeks or months. Employees will not be able to get to work due to downed trees and widespread power outages may shut down the economy for quite a long time.
According to the LIPA Forecasts Hurricane Outages & Recovery, Sept. 10, 2003, a direct hit by a Category 3 hurricane could cause some 750,000 to 1,000,000 power outages island-wide. And, it could take 15 to 30 days to restore service to all customers, or at least to those customers whose homes or businesses were not destroyed.
The 1938 Hurricane moved at forward speeds in excess of 60 mph. To this day the Long Island Express holds the forward speed record for any Atlantic hurricane.
New York City received a glancing blow from the hurricane. Wind gusts up to 75 m.p.h. blew throughout Manhattan causing the East River to flow three blocks inland.
The 1938 winds reportedly caused the Empire State Building to sway. Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau Counties, located on the western end of Long Island, were hammered with wind gusts in excess of 100 m.p.h. but escaped the worst of the wind and storm surge due to being on the storm's weaker west side. Power was lost throughout the city.
Eastern Long Island experienced the worst of the storm. The Dune Road area of Westhampton Beach was obliterated resulting in 29 deaths. A cinema at Westhampton was also swept out to sea; about 20 people at a matinee, and the theater — projectionist and all — landed two miles (3 km) into the Atlantic and drowned.
There were 21 other deaths through the rest of the east end of Long Island. The storm surge temporarily turned Montauk into an island as it flooded across the South Fork at Napeague and obliterated the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road. As a result of the hurricane the Westhampton Beach School District changed its school's nickname from the Green Wave to the Hurricanes.
The surge rearranged the sand at the Cedar Point Lighthouse so that the island became connected to what is now Cedar Point County Park. The surging water created the present-day Shinnecock Inlet by carving out a large section of barrier island separating Shinnecock Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.
The storm toppled the landmark steeple of the tallest building in Sag Harbor, the Old Whaler's Church. The steeple has not been rebuilt. Wading River suffered substantial damage. In Greenport, on the North Fork of Long Island, the storm blew down the movie theatre located on Front Street.D