NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

November 8, 2012

The lure of America's waters

The devastation of New Jersey and New York shoreline structures from Hurricane Sandy appears to have been more than it was from the no-name hurricane of 1938 that hit this stretch of the Atlantic seaboard when I was 18.

The loss of 600 lives in the storm of that year were 10 times those from Sandy — probably because of the lack of advance warnings.

The l938 predecessors were the 1815 hurricane that hit New York City, another that battered Norfolk, Va., and Long Island in 1821, the Saxby Gale of 1860 that hit both Maine and Canada, and still another that hit New York City in 1893 and removed Hog Island.

We’ve had our own interim trials with smaller hurricanes since that of 1938, and they thrust themselves upon the Atlantic coast, shaping its configuration.

Sandy was larger than all of them, although its wind speed was considerably less than that of 1938 that reached far beyond a hundred miles an hour at its peak.

Nevertheless, while coastlines evolve from nature, they are intruded upon by commerce and communities.

“I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,’’ poet John Masefield wrote in his much celebrated poem speaking of its lure.

We settled within the reach of the breaking surf of our oceans and along streams, rivers and lakes from coast to coast. They were the early highways of travel and commerce and recreation, and they remain central to our needs.

Being human, we overreach as we have at Plum Island and along the roadway connecting Salisbury and Hampton beaches.

During the hurricane of 1938, there were only modest cottages, a dance hall, a few business structures, a church and boats to suffer a storm’s onslaught at Plum Island.

In 1938 we could not have imagined the year-round settling in on the Plum Island of today.

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