1 minute readDisaster, History
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From the Archives

A Day Long Remembered…

Hurricanes hitting the Northeast may seem like the exception, but over the years that region has seen its fair share of destructive storms. On September 21, 1938, a hurricane initially expected to hit the coast of Florida shifted course and moved northwest impacting Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. The residents were caught unprepared for the storm.

Large arrows show the course of the storm while small arrows indicate the coastal locations hit by the resulting tidal wave. Map drawn by Harlan Kirby, staff artist of the Los Angeles Times. Printed in the Red Cross Courier, November, 1938, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

Wind speeds reached 87 mph in Providence, Rhode Island and massive flooding occurred due to heavy rains that preceded the hurricane’s landfall which coincided with high tide. During and after the storm, 15,107 people were cared for in Red Cross shelters throughout the affected area.

Flooding in Providence, Rhode Island, September 21, 1938. Adler photo for American Red Cross.

Damage was widespread. There were 494 fatalities and 708 suffered injuries. Over 19,000 structures and nearly 6,000 boats were damaged or destroyed. Immediately following the hurricane, chapters of the Red Cross had their rescue committees out searching wreckage strewn beaches and destroyed homes for the dead and giving first aid to the injured. First Aid stations were set up by Red Cross following the storm providing care to 17,000 patients. Red Cross also handled hundreds of welfare inquiries from friends and family members looking for information on loved ones after the storm.

Post-storm damage in the yacht basin at Pawtucket Cove in the Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, September 1938. American Red Cross.

In the wake of the hurricane and flooding, $1.6 million was spent to aid approximately 60,500 of the people in the storm’s path. The fishermen of southern New England were particularly hard hit. Their homes were ruined, boats were damaged or destroyed, fishing gear was lost and docks demolished. Red Cross aided the fishermen in rebuilding or restoring homes and household furnishings in addition to replacing boats and gear so that they could return to their livelihoods.

Fishermen in their storm-torn craft receive aid from a Red Cross worker, September 1938. American Red Cross.