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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Hurricane Of ‘38

Airs Monday, May 17, 2010 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Promotional graphic for the program "The Hurricane Of '38."

In September of 1938, a great storm rose up on the African coast and began to cross the Atlantic. The National Weather Bureau predicted it would blow itself out at Cape Hatteras, just as such storms usually did. But there was nothing typical about this storm. Without sophisticated forecasting tools, the East Coast was taken by surprise as the storm suddenly headed north. Within 24 hours of the Weather Bureau’s benign forecast, the so-called “Florida cyclone” ripped into the New England coast with a fury that set off seismographs in Alaska.

Expecting only heavy rains, people found themselves, virtually without warning, in the midst of the most devastating storm ever recorded in North America. Traveling at 60 m.p.h., with peak gust winds surging up to three times that speed, the storm killed some 600 people, destroyed 8,000 homes and wrecked 6,000 boats. "The Hurricane Of '38" follows the lives of fishermen, Shinnecock Indians and vacationers who were caught up in this incredible natural disaster.

Several families documented the destruction wrought by the Hurricane of '38 with their home movie cameras. Watch the footage online.

Hurricane of '38 Preview

As the storm made its way across the Atlantic and up the eastern seaboard, there was little warning. Radar had not been invented. The National Weather Bureau predicted it would blow itself out at North Carolina, but it didn't. No one had ever seen a storm like this.

Hurricane of '38 Home Movies

Several families documented the destruction wrought by the Hurricane of '38 with their home movie cameras. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE acquired home movies from three families.

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