Friday, August 26, 2011

Twenty-Six Years Ago in Brooklyn: The Last Hurricane/Earthquake Combo in New York, 1985

As we await Hurricane Irene from outside an evacuation zone (Zone B is across one street here in Williamsburg, Zone C across another) and reflect on the shaking bed incident (we knew it was an earthquake immediately: see below) on Tuesday afternoon, we thought about 1985, the last time we were living in Brooklyn and experienced both an earthquake and hurricane within a short time.

Here are the hurricane and earthquake excerpts from our book, Indian Summer: Park Slope, the third volume of The Eighties Diaries:

Friday, September 27, 1985

8 PM. Today was Hurricane Friday, but as I suggested last night, Gloria didn’t live up to her advance billing. Last night the Mayor announced that public schools would be closed today, and private schools, CUNY and other colleges, banks, the stock exchange and most businesses followed suit.

Things sounded awful this morning; the TV stations had hurricane alerts which tried to get people to take the storm seriously. Because they’ve evacuated Fire Island and other shore communities, I was worried about Grandma Ethel, especially after they told Rockaway residents to leave.

I called Grandma several times but she wasn’t moving. “It will pass,” she said. She did have a neighbor tape up her windows and glass terrace door, though.

I went out to Key Food at 8 AM and everyone was busy buying food and candles and batteries. People were more polite than usual and waited patiently on the long lines. The storm certainly seemed fierce; I got soaked to the skin, and my umbrella was useless against the winds.

Back on TV, forecasters said a “worst-case scenario” was approaching, with Gloria due to make landfall in mid-Long Island with 120 mph winds. But although the storm caused lots of felled trees and power lines and a good bit of property damage, it was no killer.

Coming at low tide and moving through the area very quickly, Gloria didn’t cause heavy flooding at the beach. “The beach is still here,” said Grandma Ethel, recalling that back in 1971 the ocean was under the boardwalk.

It turned out that Grandma’s relaxed attitude was more appropriate than my media-fed anxiety. Here in Brooklyn, we had heavy rains and wind – there are a lot of trees and branches down – but by 1 PM, the sun was out and it seemed calm.

I knew that was the eye of the hurricane, though, and expected worse; however, all we got after that were whipped-up winds from the other direction and a little rain. The skies cleared, and out on Seventh Avenue, people were walking around with smiles, cheerfully enjoying an unexpected holiday.

Saturday, October 19, 1985

8 PM. I didn’t get to sleep till about 11 PM last night; my sleepiness faded, and I watched "Dallas" and "Miami Vice." The latter show made me homesick when I saw Biscayne Bay, the Freedom Tower – Miami’s only stately skyscraper – and other streets that looked familiar.

I was awakened at about 6 AM by a loud rumble, and for a second or two, the room seemed to shake. The lighting fixture was swinging back and forth.

“An earthquake,” I thought – and then, “Don’t be silly. It must be an explosion or something.” And I forgot about it until our break at Columbia, when Dipti, a fellow student said, “Did you feel that earthquake this morning?”

By then, I’d figured I’d dreamed or imagined the whole thing. Kenny, in the next room, told me he didn’t feel anything, nor did Grandma Ethel in Rockaway.

But it was a quake centered in Westchester, measuring 4.3 on the Richter scale: very mild, but enough of a jolt to wake me up.

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