Ocean waves tore through the dunes to breach Fort Pond. At least four feet of water flooded the highway on Napeague, and a radio tower toppled onto the train tracks there, blocking access to – or escape from – Montauk by that route.
When Hurricane Carol struck the Northeast 68 years ago, on August 30, 1954, people were more storm-savvy than before the 1938 hurricane: “They knew what a hurricane was and we got prepared for it,” Captain Gus Pitts noted in an oral history interview, “and to fasten everything down and pick up all the junk that could fly around.”
Even so, the forecast for that Tuesday had only been for “occasional rain and quite windy,” according to the East Hampton Star. Instead, the sky unleashed winds stronger than 90 miles an hour, 4.9 inches of rain, and record high tides.
“I am amazed how fixated the public seems to be on the ’38 hurricane,” Bill Akin wrote in “Carol: The Forgotten Storm,” an essay accompanying his family’s collection of photographs of the hurricane, which the Montauk Library has digitized. “Yes, it was worse, but not much. And Hurricane Carol is proof that you don’t need ‘the storm of the century’ to cause major damage.”
Like many Montauk sportfishermen, he and his father happened to be in Point Judith, R.I., at the time for the U.S. Atlantic Tuna Tournament. Their boat was the Nika, captained by Jim Sarno with a young Harry Clemenz as his mate. Out of 85 boats, only 13 were capable after the hurricane of running under their own power, and eight of those were run by Montauk captains. One was Ralph Pitts, who smashed his front window out so the wind would blow right through. Another was Captain Sarno, who “had miraculously gotten the Nika away from the docks and out into the middle of the harbor to ride out the storm where three houses floated by with people on the roofs.”
Back in Montauk, Tom Joyce went through a similar experience. His house, which sat on pilings between Fort Pond Bay and Tuthill Road, was knocked loose by waves and carried into the pond, and he had to be rescued by boat by relatives.
“The next day we ran the Nika back to Montauk,” Bill Akin wrote. “The destruction was everywhere. Several boats at the Yacht Club were badly damaged. Water swamped the dining room in the clubhouse. Power was out all over town, and Montauk was an island.”
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