Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene: It Wouldn't Be The First Time The Northeast Got Hit

The notion of a hurricane creating serious havoc in New York City sounds sensational—but a week ago, who'd have thought the East Coast would be reminiscing about Earthquaketopia?

In fact, the Northeast has experienced a major weather disaster before. The Great Hurricane of 1938 thrust 75 mph winds across Manhattan as power was lost, the Empire State Building swayed and the East River flooded three blocks inland. In Long Island, Westhampton Beach was obliterated, killing 29. A cinema there swept out to sea, drowning 20. Parts of the Long Island Railroad were wiped out.

The 1938 hurricane became even more powerful as it traveled north to New England, in all killing up to 800 and destroying 57,000 homes, with damage reaching $306 million. To this day, it is the region's most powerful, costliest and deadliest such phenomenon in history.

Meteorologists are now predicting a direct hit by Hurricane Irene on NYC and Long Island—even if downgraded to a tropical storm after departing the Carolinas Saturday—bringing torrential rains, gusting winds and flash floods in New York Sunday. Along with several other states, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Wednesday.

Early morning Friday, Hurricane Irene is a major category 3 hurricane, with winds of 115 mph approaching Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving north by northwest at 14 mph. The Carolinas will be hardest hit Saturday, smacking down on the coast of my home state Virginia with 100 mph winds Sunday morning, then traveling up the coast and potentially centering on New York Sunday night.

By Thursday, NYC city crews were cleaning out storm drains to minimize street flooding, while vulnerable subway stations are being manned with pumps. Officials are also considering evacuating such low-lying places as Coney Island and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, Far Rockaway and Broad Channel in Queens, South and Midland Beaches on Staten Island and Battery Park City in Manhattan.

Hunker down, East Coasters!