R.I. marks hurricane's 70th anniversary
Governor vows readiness in case disaster strikes
PROVIDENCE - Downtown Providence was flooded and neighborhoods were destroyed. A group of schoolchildren who drowned after their bus was swept off the road were among the hundreds killed.
It's been 70 years since a catastrophic hurricane sped up the Eastern Seaboard and socked New England, causing widespread flooding, deaths, and millions of dollars in damage.
Reminders of the Sept. 21, 1938, storm, the worst in New England history, are present in black-and-white pictures of water-clogged streets and vivid anecdotes from grandparents and great-grandparents. And this weekend, blue ribbons on street signs and telephone poles outside The Biltmore Hotel in Providence mark the height of the flood waters during the Category 3 hurricane.
Governor Donald L. Carcieri of Rhode Island and emergency management officials commemorated the 70th anniversary of the storm Friday inside the Biltmore, where a blue banner shows the height of the flood waters and a plaque about 7 feet off the ground in the lobby marks the flood.
Preparations are better and forecasts more sophisticated than they were 70 years ago, but the state still remains vulnerable and must be ready, Carcieri said.
"We are going to be hit at some point," he said. "I think the important thing is not to get complacent and do all the preparations that we need to do,"
Ribbons marking the flood waters will also be on display in Portsmouth, where a storm surge killed 19 people; in Jamestown, where 7 children drowned in the school bus accident; and in Narragansett.
The 1938 storm killed an estimated 700 people and left 100,000 people homeless. The hurricane is sometimes referred to as The Long Island Express.
In Massachusetts, wind gusts of up to 183 miles per hour were recorded at Blue Hill's observatory, and Boston residents hunkered down under winds of about 100 miles per hour. The force of the wind shattered plate glass windows, uprooted trees, and knocked out power.
Two crewmen on a tugboat drowned in Boston Harbor when their boat capsized. At Woods Hole, three Coast Guardsmen died in the sea. Off Nahant, four on a yacht were lost. Fall River, Marlborough, Northampton and other communities were placed under martial law after reports of looting. The storm flooded communities as it tore through Cape Cod and other coastal areas in New England.
Glenn Field, a meteorologist at the Taunton office of the National Weather Service, said the hurricane was "incredibly destructive," and pointed out that it was stronger than Hurricane Ike, which came ashore as a Category 2 storm. The 1938 hurricane, which hit in the days before hurricanes were officially named, "was similar to Katrina in terms of wind speed, but moving faster than Katrina, which would lead to stronger gusts," he said.
New England has seen four major hurricanes, Category 3 or worse, in the last century, the latest being Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
Field said that the 1938 storm was the most devastating to ever hit the region.
"That was the worst one we've had," Field said. "But it actually could have been a little worse."
Globe correspondent Kasey Wickman contributed to this report.