NEW YORK (PIX11)—As residents of the Tri-State area await Sandy's impact, the question on everyone's mind is, "How bad will it be?" New Yorkers found out just how bad it could get in 1938 when a storm later named the Long Island Express tore up the coast.
Also called the Great New England Hurricane, it was the most destructive storm to hit the Northeast in the 20th century, according to historical accounts. The U.S. Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service), initially expected the storm to hit Florida, but on Sep. 19 it changed direction and headed north, moving along the coast at a clip of more than 60 mph.
"Along the south shore of Long Island, the sky began to darken and the wind picked up. Fishermen and boaters were at sea, and summer residents enjoying the end of the season were in their beachfront homes. Around 2:30 p.m., the full force of the hurricane made landfall, unfortunately around high tide. Surges of ocean water and waves 40 feet tall swallowed up coastal homes. At Westhampton, which lay directly in the path of the storm, 150 beach homes were destroyed, about a third of which were pulled into the swelling ocean. Winds exceeded 100 mph. Inland, people were drowned in flooding, killed by uprooted trees and falling debris, and electrocuted by downed electrical lines," according to History.com.
At 4 p.m. the eye of the hurricane passed over the Long Island Sound flooding rivers washed away roads and electrical fires were fanned into raging infernos. Surging ocean waters tossed boats into streets and houses while winds in excess of 120 mph toppled trains like toys. The storm accelerated, tearing northward across Massachusetts where the Blue Hill Observatory recorded winds at a shocking 186 mph. The storm took 700 lives, most of those in Long Island and southern New England, and left at least as many injured. Some 24,000 homes and buildings were destroyed or damaged, along with 3,000 ships. The financial toll reached $306 million -- $18 billion when adjusted to today's dollars.