Remembering Hurricane ’38 to Avoid Future Disaster

“The first 72 (hours) is on you,” said Teresa Crean, Community Extension Specialist at Rhode Island Sea Grant, to a full house at the North Kingstown Public Library during a Coastweeks event on September 19. These are the pivotal hours, she said, in preventing tragedies from happening.

Crean spoke after the screening of a short documentary, “Story of a Storm,” in remembrance of Hurricane ’38 – Rhode Island’s deadliest storm to-date where hundreds died and most residents were left without power or help for weeks. She implored the audience to prepare for this year’s hurricane season, emphasizing the first 72 hours as critical because first responders may not be readily available in that time frame.

“The stories of past hurricanes need to be remembered because people forget, and when they forget, tragedies happen,” said Carla Ricci, the producer of the film. Ricci’s film focused on the small mill town of Carolina in southern Rhode Island that received the brunt Hurricane ’38.

Other big storms have hit Rhode Island since but none, yet, as devastating as in 1938.

“I call it Storm Amnesia,” said Crean. “People tend to forget the life disruptions these storms present. In Rhode Island, we did not get hit by Sandy has bad as we could, but the water temperature is rising and a major storm is going to happen, it is just a matter of when.”

To better prepare towns and residents for that next major storm, Crean pointed to online tool such as STORMTOOLS, a web-based program to shows the impacts of various sea level rise and identifies vulnerable areas.

King Tide floods parking lot in Westerly, RI. Photo courtesy of MyCoast.

The model allows the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to better predict storm surges and will help, Crean believes, communities better understand their risks and prepare ahead of a storm.

She also pointed to MyCoast:Rhode Island, a website that allows the public to post photos of storm damage and exceptionally large tides, known as King Tides, from all 21 coastal communities.

This kind of documentation not only shows real-time damages from a storm and other coastal hazards, but also showcases trends over time, such as areas that may be more prone to flooding now than in the past.

Crean’s hope for MyCoast is that people use the resource as a second reference to the STORMTOOLS model.

“It has been really important messaging for us as well that our audience know we are not unnecessarily scaring you with data that is not grounded and truthful,” she said. “The models can be intimidating but the photos are another source of information confirming the accuracy of the technology. “

 

BE INFORMED   PLAN AHEAD   TAKE ACTION

Potential threats from hurricanes include powerful winds, heavy rainfall, storm surges, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents, tornadoes, and landslides. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.

The following are a few of the action items listed by the Department of Homeland Security:

  • Know your area’s risk of hurricanes.
  • Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
  • If you are at risk for flash flooding, watch for warning signs such as heavy rain.
  • Practice going to a safe shelter for high winds, such as a FEMA safe room or ICC 500 storm shelter. The next best protection is a small, interior, windowless room in a sturdy building on the lowest level that is not subject to flooding.
  • Based on your location and community plans, make your own plans for evacuation or sheltering in place.
  • Become familiar with your evacuation zone, the evacuation route, and shelter locations.
  • Gather needed supplies for at least three days. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Don’t forget the needs of pets.
  • Keep important documents in a safe place or create password-protected digital copies.
  • Protect your property. Declutter drains and gutters. Install check valves in plumbing to prevent backups. Consider hurricane shutters. Review insurance policies.

For more information, visit  https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes

– Jake Rousseau and Meredith Haas | Rhode Island Sea Grant