August 2011 Archives

   

 

          

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           Eye of Hurricane Wilma       October 31, 2005

 

Our recent "brush" with Hurricane Irene reminded me of something that happened when I was a young boy. In the summer, I used to spend a week with my grandparents, who lived in East Providence, RI. My grandfather used to work in downtown Providence as a Traffic Manager for a trucking firm.  My grandmother and I would take a bus into the city to meet my grandfather for lunch. One day, we were walking downtown when my grandmother stopped and pointed to a marker on one of the buildings. She told me that that was how high the water rose in downtown Providence during the 1938 Hurricane. At the time, it looked to me like it was 30 feet high, but upon further research, I learned it was "only" 13 feet! 

Although the "Long Island Express" (as it was called) came ashore at Bayport, Long Island, and continued up into Rhode Island, it still had a significant impact on Greenwich. It had been raining in Greenwich since Saturday, September 17th, due to a trough of low pressure. The Greenwich Time had predicted "Cloudy, probably showers, (more?) tonight and Sunday. Slightly warmer tonight." On Monday, September 19th, the headlines read "Heavy rain causes car crashes- Many skidding accidents caused by slippery conditions". Tax Collector R.M. Wilcox, an amateur meteoroloigst, reported 1.68 inches of rain had fallen over the weekend. Monday's forecast read "Showers tonight and Tuesday, not much change in temperature". As Tuesday dawned, the Greenwich Time read "Town drenched by rain, but no damage reported: Three inches of rainfall recorded: Byram River rises one foot." It was reported that 3 inches had fallen in 76 hours. It had been raining slowly but steadily, and the manholes and catch basins were able to handle it.

The weather on the eve of the hurricane was forecast as "Rain and cooler tonight and Wednesday". As Wednesday, September 21, 1938, dawned, the headline read "Byram (River) overflows in Chickahominy and Pemberwick. According to Mr. Wilcox, 2.89 inches of rain had fallen in 24 hours.  This meant 5.94 inches had fallen since Saturday. The Byram River was threatening to flow overbanks. The Felt Mill in Glenville was only 1 1/2 feet above the river!  Needless to say, the ground was saturated, and all the New England rivers were already near flood stage.

This meant the stage was set for a "Perfect Storm".   A blocking trough of low pressure was located to the west of New England.  A high pressure system over the Maritme Provinces in Canada blocked any coastal storm from moving east.   This would steer the storm directly toward New England.  Since it was the time of the Autumnal Equinox, both the Sun and Moon's gravity would combine to create an astronomical (above average) high tide, adding to the storm surge.  The hurricane had formed off the west coast of Africa, as most hurricanes do.  Radar hadn't been invented, yet.  A Merchant Marine ship had notified the National Weather Bureau in Washington, but the NWB predicted the hurricane would blow itself out over North Carolina. 

   

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                                  COURTESY:   The Providence Journal

                                         

 Not only did it not die out, but it actually picked up speed in the upper latitudes.  When it hit Long Island at 2:30 pm on September 21, it was travelling 60 miles-per-hour with 186 mph winds!   When the tidal surge and surf hit Long Island, it was picked up on a seismograph (instrument for detecting earthquakes) in Alaska!   The eye of the storm was 50 miles wide. Winds as high as 120 mph were reported at the top of the Empire State Building in New York. At the Blue Hill Observatory south of Boston reported gusts of 186 mph and sustained winds of 121 mph.  This storm was indeed a monster!

 

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             Dunes Beach Club in Narragansett.   COURTESY: Treasures of Connecticut

 

Most of the damage from this storm was caused by wind, fire, flood waters and tidal surges. In New London, a ship called the Marsala was smashed into a warehouse complex, causing a short circuit which ignited a huge fire.  Fire consumed a 1/4 mile area along the waterfront. The greatest destruction, however, occured in Rhode Island.  If you look at a map of the state, you can see that Narragansett Bay narrows as it heads north towards Providence.  Any storm surge will be forced into a "funnel", which amplifies the tide.  As I mentioned earlier, the water was 13-feet 8 1/2-inches high on a building in downtown Providence.  People were swept around the streets, and guests at the Biltmore Hotel held bedsheets out the window in hopes that people could grab on.  Cars, buses and trollies were tossed around like toys.  Many people were killed because no one knew the great storm was coming.  

 The numbers are staggering.   It was reported that 600 people were killed and 100 more were never found. Property damage was listed as $400 million (in 2005 dollars).  Approximately 8,000 homes were destroyed and 6,000 boats were wrecked or damaged.   In the 1960s, officials authorized the building of a dam to prevent future tidal surges from flooding downtown Providence.   The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the Fox Point Flood Barrier, which was dedicated on March 19, 1966.   It was designed to stop future surges in Providence by pumping 3,150,000 gallons of water per minute with 137-ton impellors and 4,500 hp motors. The project cost millions of dollars, but was well worth the investment

Next time:        Greenwich and the Great Hurricane of 1938.

 

SOURCES:    The Greenwich Time  & The Providence Journal

Unsolved Murders in Greenwich

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At one time, Greenwich had the dubious distinction of having 4 unsolved murders.
Probably the most famous was the Martha Moxley case of 1975.  This was followed by the Carrie Lee Mock case of 1981, the Matthew Margolies case in 1984 and the Mary Capozza case in 1987.  The Andrew Kissell murder was a mystery for a while, but a jury found Kissell's driver, Carlos Trujillo, guilty and he is serving a 6-year prison term with 3 years time served while awaiting trial.

 

The Martha Moxley case was "solved" in 2002 as Michael Skakel was found guilty based on circumstantial evidence. Skakel had been a neighbor and was one of the last people to be seen with her.  His brother, Thomas Skakel and a live-in tutor, Jeffrey Littlefield, had also spent time with her separately.  Skakel admitted to taking drugs and drinking alcohol that night, but claimed he didn't remember killing her. Former students at Elan School in New England - a school for troubled youth - claimed Skakel admitted killing Moxley in a group session, but their testimony was challenged by the defense lawyers, who said the people who testified had a history of taking drugs.  their memories could be tainted.  During an appeal hearing, Skakel tried to introduce evidence to implicate 3 other men, including NBA great Kobe Bryant's cousin, Tony "Gitano" Bryant, since they were in the neighborhood that night.  His appeal failed. Author Timothy Dumas wrote a book based on the true life case titled "Greentown:Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Town".  He concluded Michael was the murderer.  Skakel is currently serving 20 years to life in prison.

 

The body of Carrie Lee Mock, a 36-year-old mother from Stamford, was found on the grounds of Brunswick School on July 19, 1981.  She was last seen at a social club on Richmond Hill in Stamford around midnight the night before.  She left behind a 12-year-old daughter.  Greenwich Police have recently re-opened the "cold case" in the hopes they can find the murderer.


One of the most perplexing cases is the murder of 13-year-old Matthew Margolies around August 31, 1984. Matthew was an avid fisherman who liked to fish the Byram River.  He was last seen alive near the intersection of Pemberwick Road and Comly Avenue.  When Matthew didn't come home, his mother notified police, who combed much of the Pemberwick Road and Byram River area.  It was not until Fred Lambert, a volunteer fireman, returned home from a trip, and searched the area himself that Matthew's body was found. He had been stabbed multiple times with a knife found at the scene and asphyxiated. There were reports that the fishing pole his grandfather had given him was missing. Police eventually found the rod.  Another boy claimed Matthew had sold him the rod, but Matthew's mother doubts he would have sold an item so close to his heart.  To this day, no one has been accused of his death.

 

Mary Capozza disappeared from her Byram Shore Road home in early December 1987.  Her body was eventually found in Kensico (Westchester) Reservoir. It had been placed in a duffle bag.  About $15,000 was raised as a reward leading to the apprehension of the killer.  Police never found out who was responsible for her mysterious death. 

 


 

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