Survivors remember 'forgotten' Hurricane of '44

Most of us have heard about the historic 1938 and 1954 hurricanes that pounded Southern New England. Nearly 1,000 people died, and damage was in the billions of dollars in today's money.

But there was another storm, almost as bad, that was kept quiet: the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944.

Forgotten because it happened during the height of World War II. German U-boats sat just offshore, and their sailors were capable of listening in to our radio broadcasts.

Most warnings, and aftermath, were on a need to know basis.

By all historic accounts, the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 packed a powerful punch as a Category 3, making landfall over the eastern tip of Long Island at 10 p.m. on Sept. 14, an hour later going right over Point Judith.

Destruction was widespread from Connecticut through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and up to Maine. Fairhaven, Mass., was on the eastern side, the most intense side of the storm as it roared through at more than 40 mph.

Louise Knight was 23, living with her husband and extended family in Johnston when the storm hit.

"The limbs of the trees and the roofs and the chimneys were flying. It was scary," she said.

One of the few ways during World War II that people would know a hurricane was coming would be to look outside the local post office or Coast Guard station at the flag pole. That's where the hurricane flags would be posted.

With German U-boats just offshore, there was limited chatter on local radio stations. There was no television to speak of back then.

"That was one of the reasons we didn't get a report. The war was on and they didn't want any enemy ears to hear," Knight said.

Theodora "Teddy" Waite lived along the shore in Fairfield, Conn., where homes were sucked in to Long Island Sound. She was 14 years old when the storm hit.

"Everything was on need to know. If you didn't need to know, you didn't know. Because they didn't want the Germans to know or anyone else what we were doing," Waite said.

Most of the 390 killed in the storm were U.S. sailors on ships that sank off the southeast United States.

"Of course they didn't tell us that, you know, not for a long time. They didn't want to demoralize the public by saying they lost those men," Knight said.

It wasn't until after the war before many found out.

There had been so much devastation from the 1938 hurricane just six years earlier, there wasn't a lot left of the coast. But in today's dollars, estimated damage was nearly $1 billion.