Tomorrow will be the 74th anniversary of the 1938 Hurricane, the horrific standard by which Long Island and New England storms are still measured. A show of amateur photographs taken in and around East Hampton Village in the days following Sept. 21, 1938, give a sense of the devastation — but they tell only a small part of the story and cannot be considered a prediction of what this place would look like if and when a hurricane of equal strength strikes. Hundreds of people were killed as the 1938 Hurricane raged ashore on Long Island and in coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island. Thousands of houses were destroyed. Flooding devastated parts of New Hampshire,Vermont, and Massachusetts.
If a storm of comparable power arrived here tomorrow, the damage would be orders of magnitude greater because of the sharp, if ill-considered, increase in shoreline construction since the 1930s. Though the loss of life would be far less, thanks to improved weather forecasts, the cost to insurers, utility companies, and governments responsible for cleaning up and repairing infrastructure would be astronomical.
Disruption of everyday life would drag on for weeks. Then would come the debate about whether to allow property owners to return to harm’s way, rebuilding (or not) billions of dollars in lost waterfront real estate.
Sometimes we at this newspaper feel a bit like Chicken Little, warning again and again that calamity is nigh — only in this case, the sky is actually falling; it’s just impossible to say exactly when.