The storm called Irma was more than the storm of the century. We don’t know what else to call it. We have no comparisons. There are no detailed records past a hundred plus years ago. There is nobody alive to tell us what happened in the late 1800’s and there are only some still pictures and limited video of what happened in the hurricane of 1938.
Years ago I used to write and record a radio feature for CBS stations around the country. It was called “Footnotes.” I wrote the following piece on the 1938 Hurricane.
This is Rolland Smith with a footnote on September 21, 1938.
After the hurricane missed Miami, there was little to worry about. The meteorologists in Washington were the best. They knew this storm would run itself down.
But they missed the obvious.
The North Atlantic was under a high-pressure plateau, and for the first time in 123 years, a hurricane was being squeezed toward New England.
By dawn, the storm was far worse than any ill wind. At two O’clock in the afternoon it demolished the Atlantic City Boardwalk, but Washington forecasters insisted the storm was rapidly blowing out to sea; a mistake that cost lives.
Later an eyewitness on Long Island said he saw a thick, high bank of fog rolling in fast from the ocean. But it wasn’t fog, it was a 30-foot wall of water, and it hit the Island’s south shore with such impact it registered on a seismograph in Alaska.
Thirty room mansions disappeared. Towns collapsed. Boats splintered. It was the same throughout New England. All told, 63 thousand lost their homes. Nearly 18-hundred were injured. 700 died.
The next morning communications were still down. New York and Boston Newspapers could not learn of the extent of the destruction. By the time they could put it together, it was old news.
America had suffered a disaster greater than the Chicago Fire or the San Francisco earthquake, but what most people knew was that Hitler seized Czechoslovakia that same day.
A PBS series called the American Experience has a documentary on the 1938 hurricane that is excellent. You can see it on line. Here’s the link:
But back to Irma. Mankind needs to label and name things. It helps us remember past monumental events when the first-hand experience passes and we no longer have those who lived it to refresh our memories or to invoke the empathy of living through it.
Irma. It is a gentle sounding name, but now it has a history of fatal fury, violence, and destruction. A name dichotomy once again in the contrasts of what it sounds like compared to what it did. With Irma’s fury and size perhaps we should have named the hurricane Thor, the thunder god of the sky from Norse mythology.
I continue to monitor my local media for Irma aftermath information. It is a shame that our culture encourages violence as a means of getting something you want. In times of devastation shortages of gasoline, water, and food brings out the worst in people, the survival instinct dominates reason and courtesy and fights, and threats abound. It also brings out the best in people, but those stories don’t always get told.
The other misconception is that government must help or can help immediately. Victims are interviewed with a myopic view of the big picture. They demand they accuse; they bad-mouth authority because they have no food, no power, no water. I would suspect that some of the complainers are the ones who did not heed warnings to prepare for the worst or evacuate when urged to do so by governmental authorities.
In life, our choices set the conditions for living. Some people forget that and look to blame rather than accept personal responsibility.
BUT, now is not the time of “I told you so.” It is a time to help, to heal and to find unconditional compassion for those in need.