Hurricanes of Yore: Vintage Newsreels of Devastating Storms

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

Jaw-dropping archival clips of hurricane damage to U.S. cities in 1938, 1955, and 1969. 

The 1938 New England Hurricane smashed into the East Coast in late September of that year -- a category three storm that killed hundreds of people and wrecked thousands of homes. It caused $306 million in damage and it's considered the worst hurricane to hit New England in the 20th century. The Work Projects Administration produced the film below, Shock Troops of Disaster, to highlight the contributions of W.P.A. workers during the relief effort. Courtesy of the Internet Archive, this excerpt reveals the extent of the damage: vintage cars crushed under trees, ships swept on shore, houses in pieces. 

Category one Hurricane Connie flooded North Carolina in 1955, causing $50 million in damage and killing 43 people. This Universal Newsreel, via the Internet Archive, documents the aftermath of the storm. 

 

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The 1969 hurricane season set records with a series of category fives culminating in Hurricane Camille with 200 mph winds -- "tornado intensity, but cutting a wider swath than any tornado that ever lived," according to the narrator of A Lady Called Camille. The Department of Agriculture produced the highly dramatic film in 1971, emphasizing the importance of evacuation. This excerpt from the 30-minute film, available in its entirety at the Internet Archive, chronicles the progress of the storm and includes some staged-feeling conversations between residents deciding whether or not to leave town. In a worst-case scenario, the carefree host of a "hurricane party" ignores warnings and winds up dead. Theatrical storylines aside, Camille was a disaster; the worst of the storm hit Mississippi, killing 259 people and causing $1.42 billion in damage.  

 

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As Sandy approaches the East Coast, we feel powerless against the wrath of mother nature but at least we can appreciate the technology we have on hand in 2012. The 1938 film opens with shots of telegram warnings and hurricane flags. Now we can track Sandy via satellite and watch the Weather Channel's live coverage on YouTube, to say nothing of obvious advances in medicine, transportation, and urban planning. For more on Sandy, don't miss Alan Taylor's gallery of high-resolution photographs of the storm in progress.

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