RJ 150: Hurricane of 1938 struck with little warning, ‘awful fury’

RJ 150: Hurricane of 1938 struck with little warning, ‘awful fury’

Record-Journal


A powerful, fast moving hurricane made landfall just east of New Haven on the afternoon of Sept. 21, 1938.

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 struck with little warning and sustained winds in excess of 120 mph placing it in the Category 3 range.

Moving north at a speed of 60 mph, the storm arrived in Connecticut at high tide, adding to its damaging storm surge and massive flooding.

The hurricane remains the state’s worst natural disaster.

“Lashed by the full force of a hurricane for more than an hour yesterday afternoon, Meriden was swept by the most destructive storm in all its history, suffering untold losses in beautiful trees and damaged property, added to the toll of floods which had kept much of the center of the city under water for several days,” the Meriden Record reported on the morning of Sept. 22.

By 4 p.m., “the terrific roar of the hurricane spread across the city, and, as cloudbursts of rain beat down, it ripped and slashed through trees, sending them falling crazily into streets or upon house tops and lawns ...Thousands watched the awful fury of the storm, frightened and terrified at its destructive power.”

Floods wreaked havoc long after the wind died down.

Webb Street in South Meriden collapsed into the Quinnipiac River taking with it the Starlight Club and Lester Brown’s grocery store, the Record reported. Debris blocked the flow of water through Hanover Pond dam leaving Meriden officials with a tough choice in the early morning of Sept. 22: “either to dynamite a portion of the dam, and thus relieve the pressure, or dynamite the debris at the gateway.

“Either plan will result in damage to the structure that will have to be repaired,” the Record reported. “One of the fears expressed was that the rush of water after dynamiting might carry away the concrete and iron bridge structure just south of the dam.”

Editors topped off the page 1 story with a late bulletin: “A charge of dynamite was exploded at the dam in South Meriden at 1:30 o’clock this morning without effect. A stronger charge was being prepared...”

The newspaper’s presses were busy during the storm.

“The Record’s printing plant did double duty yesterday when, with its own pressroom flooded and paper stock destroyed, the Meriden Journal trucked its printing plates across Perkins Street and made use of the Record’s press,” another page 1 story explained.

Record facilities were used later in the evening to publish the Middletown Press as well, due to a blackout in Middletown.

Statewide, 18 lives had been lost in the immediate aftermath with another 14 people missing, the newspaper reported. Storm casualties included Norma Virginia Stockburger, 15, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Stockburger of Olive Street, who had been attending Northfield Seminary in Massachusetts.

In Southern New England alone, the hurricane was responsible for 564 deaths and at least 1,700 injuries, according to the National Weather Service.


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