Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938

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On September 21, 1938, the fastest hurricane on record caught the Northeast by surprise and left a wake of death and destruction across seven states. Traveling at record speeds, the storm raced up the Atlantic coast, reaching New York and New England ahead of hurricane warnings and striking with such intensity that seismographs in Alaska registered the impact. Winds clocked at 186 miles per hour stripped cars of their paint. Walls of water fifty feet high swept homes and entire ...
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Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938

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Overview

On September 21, 1938, the fastest hurricane on record caught the Northeast by surprise and left a wake of death and destruction across seven states. Traveling at record speeds, the storm raced up the Atlantic coast, reaching New York and New England ahead of hurricane warnings and striking with such intensity that seismographs in Alaska registered the impact. Winds clocked at 186 miles per hour stripped cars of their paint. Walls of water fifty feet high swept homes and entire families out to sea.

Drawing upon newspaper accounts, personal testimony of survivors, and archival sources, Sudden Sea recounts that day in terrifying detail. The Moore family climbed up to the attic of their oceanfront home as the waters rose, only to find themselves launched on a roiling ocean. Joseph Matoes watched as the bus carrying his children home from school stalled on the causeway just as the ocean surged into the bay. Three friends, separated in the fury of the storm, found themselves reunited on a beach a state away. These and other tales of heroism, terror, and survival form the heart of this incredible account. At the same time, R. A. Scotti uncovers the unlikely alignment of meteorological conditions that conspired to bring about the unthinkable: a tropical cyclone on the Northeast coast. The Great Hurricane of 1938 scarred a landscape and a generation. R. A. Scotti has written an extraordinary account of an ocean rising up to wreak total destruction on a way of life the world would never see again.

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
Rather than inundating the reader with too many horror stories, Scotti personalizes the terror. She profiles a socialite who never forgot the man who sheltered her and 10 other storm refugees. She visited him regularly until his death. Then she erected a beautiful granite cross to him.

Scotti is wise to include not just nature's horror but also humanity's kindness as well.

The New York Times
Relying on published accounts, meteorological analysis and interviews with survivors, she has an inherently gripping story on her hands. There are the facts of the storm, which are monumentally appalling. The human face of loss is even more excruciating. In the aftermath, Scotti writes, it was necessary to count the dead along the beaches of Rhode Island by air because so many ''had put on their boots to slog through the water.'' The heavy boots ''weighed the bodies down so that only the tops of their heads were visible.'' — Erica Sanders
Publishers Weekly
Former journalist and mystery novelist Scotti successfully applies her skills in both genres to this detailed retelling of the 1938 hurricane that ripped across seven Northeastern states and killed 682 people, "the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history-worse than the San Francisco earthquake, the Chicago fire, or any Mississippi flood." Although the enormity of the destruction has been written about before, Scotti focuses on "a few experiences that seem representative of many more" through interviews with hurricane survivors, their families and friends, as well as previously published recollections by survivors, including the late Katharine Hepburn. Scotti's detailed look at the general extent of the hurricane's destruction adds poignancy to individual stories, such as those of Joseph Matoes, who sees his children swept away from their school bus as they are battered by huge waves; Lillian Tetlow and Jack Kinney, two sweethearts who survive a storm that destroys Napatree, R.I., and who later marry; and Charles Pierce, a "green and unsure" junior forecaster for a woefully underprepared U.S. Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) who stands against his experienced superiors as the only forecaster to recognize the danger of the hurricane. Scotti also skillfully presents the details of a hurricane, although she reminds us that "after decades of study and with all the technological tools of the trade... we still cannot predict a hurricane more than twenty-four hours in advance." (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Mystery writer Scotti (The Hammer’s Eye, 1988, etc.) applies her suspense-building skills to the story of a murderous storm that capped a punishing decade. It’s hard to go wrong with the raw material provided by the Great Hurricane of 1938. The narrative follows the storm as it made landfall in Florida, pushed up the coast, and raced from Cape Hatteras to Long Island in a mere seven hours. Where appropriate, Scotti adds brief background material on the nature of hurricanes, the quality of weather forecasting at the time, and the histories of the towns hardest hit, particularly in Rhode Island; she also compares the 1938 storm to others in the past. But she saves her most powerful writing for the hurricane itself, describing the storm watch and the havoc wrought when it reached land with the help of a wide sampling of firsthand accounts. "The scene around us in the attic was unbelievable," recalls a woman who was ten at the time. "The waves, at the level of the attic floor, beat unceasingly against the house, which trembled and shook." Scotti matches the wild images of the eyewitness accounts with her own flair for descriptive narrative: "The ocean banged on doors and windows . . . then it went upstairs into the bedrooms where families sought refuge, and chased them higher yet, into third floors and attics, onto rooftops, until there was no place to go but into the sea." Almost 700 people died, 433 of them in Rhode Island, where the storm surge buried Providence under 12 feet of water and where Scotti concentrates her story. With power and phone lines down, it was days before people understood the full extent of the devastation, which along the shoreline in particular was complete: "Whatthey eye saw, the mind could not process and the heart refused to accept." A darkly intense portrait. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen, 4 maps) Agent: Joe Spieler/Spieler Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316739115
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 9/3/2003
  • Pages: 279
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue: Gone with the Wind 3
1 A Perfect Day 7
2 The Way It Was 25
3 A Shift in the Wind 33
4 Hurricane Watch 37
5 At Sea 51
6 All Aboard 61
7 A Bright Young Man 71
8 Upside Down, Inside Out 83
9 Battening the Hatches 87
10 A One-Hundred-Year Storm 93
11 How Do You Lose a Hurricane? 99
12 The Long Island Express 105
13 Crossing the Sound 119
14 The Atlantic Ocean Bound Out of Bed 125
15 The Dangerous Right Semicircle 137
16 Providence 161
17 The Tempest 171
18 Cast Adrift 189
19 All Quiet 203
20 The Reckoning 209
21 The Last of the Old New England Summers 225
Afterword 235
Appendix A Nickel for Your Story 239
Author's Acknowledgments 245
Sources and Chapter Notes 247
Selected Bibliography 257
Index 265
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 13 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 5, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Sudden Sea is an enticing storm itself...

    I thought that Sudden Sea was a riveting narrative of the Great Hurricane that swept the New England coast both unexpectedly and with extraordinarily tremendous force. With Scotti's extensive research, the compelling stories that come out of the book leave a lot to the imagination. Overall, I felt that the facts within the book are as accurate as what I've learned about tropical storms in geography.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2008

    AVERAGE AT BEST

    Nice historical story as far as telling tales from people who were there. But, sloppy meteorology explanations and disjointed writing. Don't pay full price.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2004

    OUTSTANDING

    One of the best books I have ever read. I could not put it down. It was factual, exciting, graphic and at times even humerous. It is a MUST read for all New Englanders.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2004

    How to make a story interesting

    The writer was able to transport the reader back to 1938, by using details about what daily life was like in 1938. Scotti gives the reader background on the people who were struck by the hurricane, so the reader would care about the 'characters,' who were all real people who did eat breakfast that day, just like most people. I would recommend this book to anyone who experienced this hurricane or remembers its destruction.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2003

    Overdramatic and poorly written

    Although book contains many facts and trivia about this major hurricane, it reminded me of a 'made-for-tv' disaster movie. It began by giving backgrounds of certain families on morning of disaster, like what they had for breakfast and what clothes they were wearing,etc., and followed these families through their day and into the storm. Too much trivial information about families and not enough about the storm and the aftermath. Book has very few pictures of event. Very disappointing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2003

    Swept Away by Sudden Sea

    I started this book on Saturday morning & finished the read Sunday evening. Needless to say I was swept away with the story & found it to be a very easy read. I grew up in Westerly, on the beaches of Misquamicut, Watch Hill, & Napatree Point, often hearing stories of the hurricane & its devastation on the area. Providing the reader with just enough detail, background information, & insightful speculation - history reading like a novel - Ms. Scotti tells the story of an event that is still talked about with awe by the people who experienced it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2003

    Swept Away with Sudden Sea

    I started this book on Saturday morning and finished my reading on Sunday night. It was that hard to put down and that easy of a read. Just enough detail, background information, and insightful speculation - it's history that reads like a novel. I grew up in Westerly on the beaches of Misquamicut, Watch Hill, & Napatree Point. Ms. Scotti has written a gripping and humane account of an event that is still talked about with awe by all who experienced it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2003

    Sudden Sea- A must read

    This book was brought to my attention by Men's Health Magazine who recommended it. I bought it and though I haven't finished it yet it is a very well written book that is very informative and was based well on facts... good research by the author. If you like books about history and weather related (storms, hurricanes) I highly recommend this book!

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    Posted July 31, 2009

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    Posted January 2, 2013

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