West Indian Monster

August 27th, 2011

As choruses of “Irene, Goodnight” ring out from the more enlightened tenements in Greenwich Village, I can’t help regretting the days when storms were christened in more poetic fashion. We don’t yet know whether Hurricane Irene’s New York landfall — forecast for the wee sma’s of Sunday, August 28, 2011 — will enter the annals of history as a great disaster, but it did get me wondering about New York’s previous hurricane history.

The City’s worst recorded storm took place in early September, 1821. It first made landfall in North Carolina, and roared up through the Delmarva penninsula and New Jersey before slamming into New York City and Long Island. This may sound unnervingly familiar if you have been following the track of our 2011 storm. But 1821 hit much harder than Irene is likely to do. 13 foot surges from both rivers pushed across the City, entirely flooding Manhattan south of Canal Street. Jeepers!

In 1893, a serious hurricane — colorfully dubbed the “West Indian Monster” — again tore across the City and Long Island. It completely demolished, as in, it no longer exists, a small barrier island known as Hog Island (because Native Americans kept pigs there). Here’s what The New York Times had to say about conditions in Brooklyn on August 25, 1893:

“In such a savage manner did this West Indian monster of the air conduct itself that when the gray light of dawn came upon the city its inhabitants looked tremblingly forth upon a widespread scene of damage and destruction.”

Then the City was hit again in 1938, by a storm now known as “The Long Island Express.” In that case, I think I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

1938 Hurricane

1938 Hurricane

If I only had a canoe…

In all seriousness, we are well stocked with fresh water, non-perishable food, candles, and a battery powered radio. Our building stands in a zone that will only be evacuated in case of a much more serious storm. All our windows are closely flanked by other buildings — usually a source of frustration because of the miserable light that trickles down into our garret. But in this case, we are glad to be so well protected. At the worst, we may be without power for a day or two — a good excuse to turn off the computer and pay attention to something real. I’ll keep you posted.