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Book Title: Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938|
The author of the book: R.A. Scotti
ISBN 13: 9780316832113
Edition: Back Bay Books
Date of issue: August 24th 2004
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 4.95 MB
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Reader ratings: 3.7
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Bravo to R.A. Scotti.
Sudden Sea is an engaging, thrilling and honest record of the Category 5 hurricane that slammed into New England in September of 1938. Hardest hit was Rhode Island where residents 433 died (most from the storm surge) and where the author Scotti later grew up.
Scotti has written numerous fiction books, she did a great deal of research on New England hurricanes and it is clear she knows how to weave a story. The editing in this book is also quite good. At 244 pages the book is a fast read.
The early chapters cover the storm as it formed in the Azores, worked its way to Florida alarming meteoroligists and made a right turn up the coast. Once the hurricane veered away to the north and provided sighs of relief to Florida residents, the books covers the failure of the meteorologists in the mid Atlantic states to issue proper hurricane warnings as the hurricane made its way north. The speed of the hurricane was unheard of as it moved 600 miles from off the coast of Florida to Rhode Island in only 12 hours which explains some of the failure of notification. The other explanation is that the last hurricane of any note to hit New England was more than a 100 years earlier and the only real deadly one had occurred way back in the 17th century.
When the hurricane hit Long Island and an hour later hit Rhode island, no one was prepared. There are vignettes of many people in the earliest hours watching their summer homes wash away including Catherine Hepburn. Entire beach communities were wiped out.
As the hours progressed, the flooding and storm surges took substantial numbers of lives. Now floating in the water, residents held on to driftwood and parts of their now destroyed homes to avoid drowning. Many watched as loved ones disappeared into the froth of the surging ocean.
The story mostly follows the stories of the residents of Beavertail Island and Jamestown Island in the Narragansett Bay, these were the areas demolished by the hurricane. The story of the children on the school bus trapped in the storm surge was quite emotional. One of those wait, what just happend to those kids moments.
Beyond the human fatalities, there were numerous wilderness areas along the coast that were forever stripped of trees and farms destroyed. Most of the cottages along the beaches that were not made of stone or anchored to stone foundations were wiped away. Hundreds of thousands of surivors were displaced as the storm barreled inland through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. More than half of Vermont's sugar maple trees were said to have been lost. It was, in short, one mother of a storm and the fourth deadliest hurricane on record until Katrina.
Closing out the story there was the scene of the 19 people who took shelter in the Napatree Fort on the peninsula jutting out into Long Island Sound. Only four of the nineteen clammers huddled there survived. Lilian and Jack, two of the survivors, married one year after the hurricane. Their son later said "If they could weather the 'thirty-eight hurricane together, they believed they could go through anything."
Despite the fact that so many lost their lives, oddly enough I did not find this book depressing. Rather I think it was a real heart felt homage to those who lost their lives and to those survivors who had to experience the loss of loved ones, some of whom they were holding on to when the storm surge swallowed them up.
Here are some other excellent history books on American natural disasters that I can highly recommend, although due to the gravity and weight of the subject matter I would not suggest reading all in a row:
Isaac's Storm - Erik Larson's book about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane
The Johnstown Flood - David McCullough's book on the 1889 flood
Hemingway's Hurricane - Phil Scott's book about the 1935 hurricane in the Florida Keys
The Big Burn - Timothy Egan's book about the 1910 Fire in Idaho and Montana
Under a Flaming Sky - Daniel James Brown's book about Minnesota fire of 1894
Five Days at Memorial - Sheri Fink's book about Hurricane Katrina in 2013
Sudden Sea was the most personal of these seven great reads for me. Maybe it was the recency and the Anglo-Saxon-Protestant backgrounds of all those who died that especially resonated with me. The vignettes stand out in this book and many of the younger survivors were still alive in 2003 and some interviewed when the book was written. Most of the other books, with the exception of Five Days at Memorial, covered events from long ago where there weren't any survivors still alive at the time of publication.
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