This is the second post in a three-part series. Here’s part one: September 3, 1932: The Calm Before the Storm.
There had been talk on Green Turtle Cay about a hurricane, but the only forecasting tools at the time were barometers. And though they were falling, indicating the approach of inclement weather, there was no way to predict where or when the storm would hit, or how serious it might be.
Thick, black storm clouds gathered in the eastern sky on Sunday evening. On Monday, September 5, New Plymouth residents woke to pelting rain and howling winds that intensified throughout the morning.
By afternoon, according to Bahamian meteorologist Wayne Neely in The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1899 and 1932, the first known and documented Category 5 hurricane ever to hit the Bahamas was battering Green Turtle Cay.
Sustained winds reached 160 mph, with gusts as high as 200 mph, and a storm surge of 20 feet.
For three days, the storm stalled over the cay, hurling boats and large chunks of debris around like toys. Houses flooded and were smashed. Some fell off their footings. Most collapsed all together.
Forced to abandon their disintegrating homes and peppered with sand, stones and stinging rain, families clung to each other to avoid blowing away as they crawled in search of shelter.
In the few structures that remained intact, the townspeople huddled together, singing hymns to comfort the children and to ward off panic as the settlement was demolished around them. There was no food, no light and but for the few who managed to reach the home of settlement doctor, Walter Kendrick, no aid for the wounded.
Below are two first-hand accounts of the ’32 hurricane – one from my grandmother, Lurey (Curry) Albury and the other from her first-cousin, John Lowe.
John Lowe (1925-2013)
John was the only child of Pa Herman’s sister, Bessie Curry, and Howard Lowe, who died when John was two. John and Aunt Bessie lived in a little house half-a-dozen or so doors west of Ma May and Pa Herman on the New Plymouth waterfront.
Though John was just seven years old when the hurricane struck, his son Evan Lowe says he spoke of it often. In recent years, John jotted down his recollections of the ’32 hurricane, and Evan has graciously shared them with me.
“Summer of ’32 had come to an end. As September rolled around, little did we know our lives would be forever changed in just a few days. Barometers on the island helped to warn us of looming storms.
But on September 5, the barometers dropped to their lowest point ever. We knew that a serious storm was at our back door. There wasn’t a lot of advance notice.
Mom knew she needed to evacuate, as our small house was too close to the water’s edge. Time was of the essence. The cemetery would flood quickly preventing us from reaching the hill. We headed for Uncle Hartley’s and Aunt Mira’s home, built inland and on the hill. Many other islanders, friends and family, sought refuge in their home as well.
The wind and the rain were incessant. The house was pummeled by flying debris. A two-by-four came hurling through the side of the house. Uncle Hartley ordered everyone to the separate dining room structure. The wind continued to intensify. The dining room started to rock like a boat. Uncle Hartley knew that we could not stay here.
A stone building less than 10 feet away on the property was our last resort. The wind was so strong that the adults had to crawl on the ground to this refuge. The children had to be carried. Uncle Hartley grabbed me in his arms. As he was leaving the wind whipped the door back in his face and chipped his tooth.
Inside, we huddled on the floor and prayed while the wind howled and the rain poured. It was hard to believe that the roof was still attached, as water was pouring through every crack or crevice. Miraculously the kerosene lantern stayed lit.”
Lurey (Curry) Albury (1919-2010)
Though my grandmother, Lurey Curry Albury, shared many tales about growing up on Green Turtle Cay, her memories of the ’32 hurricane were among the most vivid. She was twelve years old at the time of the storm. Her sisters, Virginia (Virgie) and Belle, were eight and four, respectively.
“That Sunday night, all we had to go by was the barometer, and a radio somebody had. Some people were battening down their houses. Daddy said, ‘I don’t think we goin’ to have anything,’ so we went to church. Throughout the night, though, Daddy started battening down the house.
School was opening that Monday. I remember, because I had on a dress with a flared tail, and the wind was blowing so hard the skirt blew right up over me. Uncle Matthie, Mama’s youngest brother, sent me down to Mr. Frank Curry’s shop to get him cigarettes. Mr. Curry said to me, ‘Girl you out buying cigarettes and a hurricane’s coming?’
That Monday morning, it kept coming, worse and worse, worse and worse. Uncle Matthie stood at the door of our house, in case we had to go. The door was tied with rope. A piece of lumber came off of Miss Eula’s house and broke the north upstairs window. When that window burst open, Uncle Matthie cut the rope.
I grabbed Belle. Virgie got down on her hands and knees. Daddy said, ‘Let us go to Aunt Emmie’s house.’ That was his sister. Her house wasn’t too far. As we were leaving, Daddy said to us, ‘Children, I’m afraid when this is over, you won’t have a home to come back to.’
I was ahead, going with Belle on my hip, and I said, ‘Turn back! Aunt Emmie’s house is gone!’ So we said, ‘Well, let us go down to Mr. Kendrick’s house.’
Uncle Charlie (Lowe’s) brother’s children – the eldest son Dewees and the youngest son Bert – they were like Belle and me. I was carrying Belle, and Dewees had his youngest brother on his hip, trying to get to Mr. Kendrick’s house. They think a piece of lumber must have come down and hit Dewees in his head. They found him and his little brother down on that road, dead, after the hurricane.
The rain had eased off a bit, and Miss Vera Saunders’ daddy, he heard us passing. He opened the southern window, and called to us, ‘Come here!’ He took Belle from me and pulled her inside. Didn’t look to see where she was going, he just took her. The place was full of people. Virgie was crawling on her hands and knees. I helped her in, then I got in. You see, he had to take in as many as he could before the next winds came. We all got in there. Mama and Daddy, and Aunt Neva, too.
Aunt Neva’s husband, Uncle Charlie (Lowe) and a couple of others had gone down to one of the cays. Their boat went up on the land and they stayed there during the hurricane.
People from the low land near the cemetery went up into the quarry. They went to go to the school, but it was gone. Some sat on the school steps and they said they could feel those steps shaking.
Mama’s brother, Uncle Charlie (Gates) owned the hotel, but only his family and his wife’s family lived there. Miss Alice, his mother-in-law, was killed. The hotel broke down – it was made of those great big stones – and she was killed there.
When the wind died down, some people thought the hurricane was finished. They went to see if they could find some corned beef or different things to eat. See, up until that time, hurricanes were a joke. Young boys went down to the spit, got jelly coconuts and cut them open. People went out, picking up hog plums off the ground, picking up oranges, collecting things. And then the wind came from the opposite direction. That’s what made it so bad.”
And the worst was yet to come.
Part three of this series can be found here: September 7, 1932: What Misery Lay Ahead
(Note: John Lowe’s son, Evan, has recently started a blog, Out Island Boy, in which he shares more of his Dad’s recollections, as well as stories from his branch of our family tree.)