CATASTROPHE: Abyss from the Indies

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Year in, year out across the northern U. S., great areas of high and low pressure, each several hundred miles in diameter, roll like atmospheric groundswells—the lows bringing overcast and rainy weather, the highs fair skies. Compared to this relatively placid atmospheric topography, the antics of West Indies weather are fantastic. In that tropical neighborhood, pits of low pressure suddenly take form, airy abysses miles deep into which winds from the high-pressure areas rush from all sides not at 30, 40, 50 m. p. h. but at 75, TOO, even 200 m. p. h. Such an abyss formed late last fortnight northeast of Puerto Rico.

Like others of its kind this pit did not remain stationary. Usually they move northwestward till they strike the coast of Florida or the Gulf, then turn northeastward, out over the Atlantic. Last week's pit started on this route, swerved northward before it reached the coast of Florida. Off Cape Hatteras it appeared to swing northeastward but its path was blocked because an unusually broad high pressure plateau covered nearly the whole north Atlantic. Following the course of least resistance the pit swept northward into a low-pressure trough—across Long Island, through the heart of New England, into Canada, finally vanishing north of Montreal.

That was all, but for one day it made a cataclysm in the barometric topography of the U. S. New England suddenly found itself at the bottom of an atmospheric abyss between two great plateaus (see map). The effect would hardly have been much more catastrophic had a new Grand Canyon of the Colorado suddenly opened in the Connecticut Valley.

At 2:45 p. m. on September 21 the storm reached Long Island. More destructive hurricanes have bombarded U. S. shores, but never has a hurricane struck a region so thickly populated and so unprepared. Inattentive to weather reports, many a landsman had his first intimation that the wind and rain were more than an equinoctial storm, when he had a "funny feeling'' in his ears—the effect of sudden low pressure, like that of going up in an elevator.

Long Island. The shrieking vortex of the storm first hit Long Island between Babylon and Patchogue where the barometer reached an all-time low for that area, 27.95 in. At summer resorts on the long strip of sand dunes separating the ocean from Great South, Moriches and Shinnecock Bays, the hurricane swept away everything not securely anchored including all wind-measuring instruments.

Following the first fierce blow came tidal waves, several in succession to heights of 30 or 40 feet. Bath houses, boat houses, summer cottages, Coast Guard stations, long rows of squat and sturdy stores were swept away, hammered into high windrows of kindling wood or carried over whole to toss on the raging bay waters. Of 150 buildings in West Hampton Beach, six were left standing. In the bays, even in village streets on the mainland, drowning people screamed and struggled.

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