s New Yorkers awake safe Sunday morning after a weakened Hurricane Irene struck the city, many are accusing the media and political leaders with over-hyping the storm. Three-hundred-thousand trees have been uprooted and 78,000 homes are without power, according to NBC-4 news reports. But flooding is limited in the city and no fatalities have been reported here.
Still, the lesson of history is that it pays for the city to be hyper-vigilant about hurricanes.
In 1821, a hurricane struck the city directly, causing the East River and Hudson River to converge, submerging Lower Manhattan in water, as far north as Canal Street. The tide rose 13 feet in an hour and crashed over wharves. Fatalities were limited, mostly because the flooded areas weren’t heavily populated then.
In 1893, a hurricane struck a commercially vibrant barrier island off the Rockaways, submerging it completely and permanently in water. The island, Hog Island, disappeared. The storm caused a 30-foot surge in southern Brooklyn and Queens, destroying all properties in its path.
In 1938, the eye of a category 3 hurricane crossed over Long Island, producing 183 mile-per-hour winds. The storm crossed into Connecticut and by its end took 200 lives.
Hurricane Irene’s damage is still being assessed, but clearly far more limited than these three storms. Yet just last night, no one could say for certain that we’d be dealing with a mild tropical storm or a major killer.