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Hurricane of 1938 May Still Be the Champ

Port Washington old timers know first-hand the damage a hurricane can wreak.

With Hurricane Earl making its way up the East Coast, the media continues to busy itself with hurricane stories and predictions.  Yet, it was the hurricane of 1938 that got the most attention. Port Washington old timers will tell you it really made a mess of the Cow Neck Peninsula. The storm warning technology we rely on today was just beginning to be developed and there were far fewer news outlets.  Most people were caught by surprise.

The Port Washington News referred to the storm that hit on Wednesday, September 21, after five days of steady rain as a "tornado." Nearly 400 boats were torn from their moorings in Manhasset Bay and sunk or smashed against docks. More than 100 of them were washed up on the Port Washington Yacht Club beach. Three sailboats landed in the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club swimming pool. The Port Washington Police Station, on the edge of Sunset Park, was flooded as was the Sands Point Police Station, on Lighthouse Road. Manorhaven was blacked out and many of its sea level homes flooded.

Before the Long Island Express, as the storm was later called due to the 121 miles per hour speed at which it went cross country, left for Westhampton Beach, Montauk and New England, it racked up $1.5 million in damages in Port.  Total damages on Long Island amounted to $6.2 million. That may not seem like much, but remember this was back when one could get a sandwich and a milk shake for 25¢ at a drugstore counter.

The 1938 Hurricane was responsible for the deaths of about 50 to 100 people –estimates vary – on Long Island and another 600 in New England. It also radically changed shorelines in the many of the places it visited.  The wind and the waves in Shinnecock Bay broke through a barrier island to form Shinnecock Inlet. The new inlet created a short cut to the  Atlantic Ocean that is now used by about 27,000 boats per year.

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