2003-09-19 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken
On The Bayfront By Elisa Hinken

By the time this edition hits the press, we’ll know the outcome of Hurricane Isabel. For the first time in many years, our coast was threatened by a powerful storm. The first time I remember preparing for a hurricane as an adult, was 1984, the year my first child was born. We lived on the ground floor in an apartment building in Woodmere. One of our windows (frame and all) was blown out. The storm wasn’t as powerful as the window was weak, but it made me respect the awe of nature and the powers over which we have no control.

Years later, in 1991/1992, while residing in Atlantic Beach, we repeatedly witnessed Nor’easters damaging the beaches. We’d run down to the boardwalk, hold on to the rails with all our might, fully dressed in rain gear which blew off and opened to the point where we’d get rain soaked anyway, watching surfers gallantly, fearlessly, take advantage of a seaside wrath of nature. That same year, fishermen were washed off jetties, a few washed off the Meadowbrook Bridge in Jones Beach, million dollar yachts tied up in Reynold’s Channel in Long Beach, smashed into each other like a bathtub full of toy boats, cars floated along streets hitting each other as the wake from a passing truck disturbed the lake on the street. The foundation cracked on my mom’s house as the creek way below the street swelled and overflowed. What a mess!

The scariest part of the storm was actually being stranded for a few hours. My husband and I ventured around our neighborhood to find we couldn’t get past East Atlantic Beach nor cross the Atlantic Beach Bridge because of flooding. The Nor’easter hit during a period of high tide, so flooding was pretty extensive. The children were safely tucked away in school for a few hours by the time high tide hit. We were cut off from the main land! Although the northern part of the Atlantic Beach Bridge has been elevated and re-paved, the bridge plaza remained the same – and that is where all the flooding was. East Atlantic Beach, near C-Town had two to three feet of water from the bay past the two main roads. The street we lived on experienced minor flooding which never entered the houses. The elevation of the streets in the Silverpoint section of Atlantic Beach remains among the highest of the entire barrier beach.

The 1991/1992 Nor’easters really opened my eyes. It brought me back to the year my parents lived on Beach 66 Street in Arverne when Hurricane Donna hit. The year was 1960. Everyone who owned a boat helped out those who didn’t have one. I have a picture of my dad trying to dry out the distributors and wires of cars that were stranded.

What have we learned from all these storms and natural occurrences? Are we adequately prepared? Do our evacuation routes work? Should we stay or should we flee? My husband and I shopped for emergency supplies and food four or five days before Isabel was scheduled to make landfall. Supplies were already dwindling on the store shelves. Bottled water was almost out. Size "D" batteries were almost gone. Battery operated radios were sold out except for the higher priced ones. LIPA estimated power outage could extend into weeks to a month if we were hit directly with a Category 4 hurricane. So my house is packed full of canned goods. However, if we are ordered to evacuate, we’ll leave in a New York minute. I’ll make reservations at the Lancaster PA Hilton Hotel from my cell phone if necessary. That’s IF my cell phone works.

I won’t hang around to ride out a storm that is potentially as damaging as the 1938 hurricane that hit Long Island. That storm, dubbed the "Long Island Express" was a category 3. The immediate effect of this powerful hurricane was to decimate many Long Island communities (remember, Rockaway is part of Long Island) in terms of human and economic losses, however, the long term effects linger today. The ‘38 Hurricane created the Shinnecock Inlet and widened Moriches Inlet, which, to this day, are changing the landscape of the south shore due to their influence on the natural littoral sand transport. History has shown that these powerful storms are rare but do in fact occur with long-term frequency. Case studies have shown that the next time a storm like the "Long Island Express" roars through, it might be the greatest disaster in U.S. history. Just look at these fast facts: Peak steady winds were 121 miles per hour, with peak gusts of 186 m.p.h. registered at Blue Hill Observatory, MA. Lowest Pressure - 27.94 in (946.2 mb) recorded at Bellport, NY. Peak storm surge was measured at 17 ft. above normal high tide in Rhode Island. Peak Wave Heights reached 50 ft. at Gloucester, MA. There were 700 deaths (600 in New England). 63,000 people were left homeless. 8,900 homes and buildings were destroyed. 3,300 boats were lost. Approximately 2 billion trees were destroyed. The 1998 adjusted cost of the 1938 hurricane was $15 billion.

I’ll flee, thank you.

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