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Remembering Hurricane Hazel

With the start of hurricane season upon us, Now & Then columnist reflects on Hurricane Hazel, which hit Maryland in 1954.

June marks the beginning of the 2011 hurricane season.

Although June hurricanes are rare, they do occasionally happen. Here in Maryland let us pray that the devastating storms recently occurring in the midwest are not a sign of things to come in the Mid-Atlantic region.

We have, from time to time had our share of severe storms pass through our area. Most recently, Tropical Storm Isabel came for a visit in 2003 and caused wide scaled flooding and financial damage totaling approximately $945 million to many waterfront communities such as Millers Island, Bowleys Quarters, and the Back River Neck. Almost 1.24 million people were without power for days.

Prior to that, 1972’s Hurricane Agnes was the worst storm to hit Maryland in decades. It turned out to be one of the state's most destructive natural disasters.

Closing and completely washing out many roads, forcing thousands to evacuate, and causing an ecological calamity for the Chesapeake Bay that took years from which to recover. The damage was so severe that Hollywood legend Bob Hope recruited many of his actor friends to come to Baltimore to hold a six-hour telethon that raised more than $2 million for relief efforts.

Nineteen people lost their lives in Maryland. Agnes dumped almost 19 inches of rain to the area, which caused the Susquehanna River to rise so high it almost overflowed atop the Conowingo Dam.

Some of you can probably remember the unnamed hurricane of 1933 that produced an 11-foot storm surge, which created the inlet between Ocean City and Assateague and destroyed railroad bridge, which headed into Ocean City. The storm killed 13 people and more than 1,000 animals and caused $17 million in damage.

For me, the scariest storm I ever lived through was 1954’s Hurricane Hazel. Although I do not have very good recall of the events of my early childhood, Hazel was something that will stay with me forever.

My father worked at Sparrows Point and was trapped there, unable to make it home during the storm. That left my mother and her five young children aged 12, 10, 5, 3, and 1 at home to survive by themselves.

The thing I can remember the most is that the sky was so black it was the darkest outside it has ever been in my lifetime. The rain was beating so hard against the windows it sounded like bass drums. The wind blew with such force the entire house was shaking and almost felt like it was coming off the foundation.

We were all huddled in the center of the house, as far away from the windows as we could get to avoid flying glass should the windows break. We were scared but I do not remember if we were crying. Perhaps we were but just could not hear it over the wind and pounding rain. My mother was doing her best to comfort us and keep us from being afraid but in hindsight, she was probably more scared than any of us.

For the record, Hazel struck land between the South Carolina and North Carolina border on Oct. 15, 1954. It was a category 4 hurricane at the time. It had already passed through Haiti where it created much damage and great loss of life.

It gained strength in the Atlantic before slamming into the Carolinas and heading north into Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Canada leaving a trail of destruction and devastation second to none.

In Maryland, Hazel dumped 6 inches of rain in a 12-hour period and created a storm surge of 6 feet. Flooding was widespread and the winds were sustained at 73 mph with gusts in excess of 100 mph. Six people lost their lives and countless others were injured. An estimated 500,000 trees were blown over. Roofs blew off many houses and some homes were moved off of the foundations by the flooding.

Thousands of boats were destroyed and many marinas were completely lost. In all, Hazel caused total damages in the amount of about $28 million.

Keep in mind now that I was only small child when this happened so in my mind and imagination all of the facts listed above were greatly multiplied.

I will never forget it.      

Ken Woelfer June 07, 2011 at 07:33 PM
To the Editor: Give Keiith a raise!! ALWAYS interesting articles from a guy obviously well versed in local issues! Sincerely, Ken Woelfer (Another local)
Cynthia Daley August 26, 2011 at 10:55 AM
I was 5 years old and living in Havre de Grace when Hurricane Hazel hit; it's a storm I remember very well. The wind was roaring and I heard the huge break of a large tree right outside of our home. That's when I cried out that "I was too young to die." My father, Dean Pershing, was a photographer in town and got the bright idea to drive around and take pictures. We ended up at the waterfront in the part where he photographed a sailboat riding out the storm. When he got off the pier, it immediately broke apart in the wind and sea. We also saw someone get blown off another pier. I can still recall sitting next to my mother in the car (her name was also Hazel) watching my daddy taking pictures in the middle of a hurricane. He sold pictures all right but it was a rather idiotic thing to take his family for a drive in the storm. We had a hard time getting home even though we lived only a few blocks away as so many of the old huge trees blocked the streets. I find hurricanes very scary to this day. Cynthia Pershing Daley Phoenix, AZ (formerly of HdG and sometimes still homesick for her)

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