Elizabeth Ann Mills’ account of her experience of the 1938 hurricane
The following account is a transcript of dictation by 12-year-old Elizabeth Ann Mills of Fall River and Westport Harbor to her family doctor after she survived the 1938 hurricane.
“It was September 21, 1938, and we were having a bad wind storm. The ocean was making a lot of noise and the tide was high.
“Daddy telephoned from Fall River at quarter of four to see if we were all right. The storm grew worse and soon the house next to us was blown over and over across the road. It broke up in pieces.
“The water began to come under our door in the living room, then the door blew open and the water on the ocean side of the house washed in, filling the room. I anted to leave but Mary (Mary Francis Black, 52 of Fall River, the family cook and housekeeper) said we would be better off if we stayed inside the house.
“The water was so deep that the furniture was floating around in the living room. We went upstairs and looked out the windows at the storm and saw some of the other houses knocked over by waves and disappear.
“Mary said we had better get out now and go to some other house that hadn’t been washed away. But we couldn’t open any door. Then we tried to get out.
“We went into the kitchen and the garage doors burst open with water rushing through the house. We were sort of swept out through the garage door into the yard, where the water was up to my shoulders and pushing me toward the pond across the road.
“Mary could not swim. We caught hold of a telephone pole that was down. Mary was hanging on to the broken wire with one hand and holding me with the other. She told me to take care of myself.
“Before that, in the house, Mary told me between our prayers that she would probably die but that maybe I would come through all right.
“I told her to let me go but she didn’t until my head went under. I remembered that if a person were going to drown I should take off my clothes. It was a hard job to get my overalls and my sneakers off because my feet were tangled up in the long grass. It seemed as though I was under water for three or four minutes but of course I wasn’t.
“When I got them off and got my head above water and was swimming I couldn’t see Mary anywhere.
“I decided the breast stroke would be the best to use, so I got a board in the water and swam that way for a while. I was being washed up the pond. The wavers were big, just the way I have seen them in the ocean when it’s rough. I didn’t mind the waves so much but they were full of pieces of wood that kept hitting me. I got an awful bang on the head and another on my arm from a piece of wood that had a nail in it.
“I saw our dining room table and chairs from the living room going along beside me in the waves. Three of four times the waves came over me and rolled me over and over just the way they do when you in bathing in the surf and waves catch you and pick you up and wash you in shore on the beach.
“Once I got myself up on part of a roof of a house. That gave me a chance to get my breath. But I didn’t like it there because the waves broke over it and threw pieces of wood ahead and hit me and they hurt. So I dove and swam.
“I was heading for the shore near the Acoaxet Club. I was thinking of my mother, who was in Fall River, and I thought that if I could only get on shore near the Acoaxet Club I could go somewhere and get a telephone and tell her not to come to Westport because the storm was so bad.
“When I got tired of swimming, I would get hold of a piece of wood that was everywhere around me and get my breath.
“I could have played cards because there were so many in the water.
“I saw the upper part of several houses going along up the pond but there was so much spray in the wind that I couldn’t see far.
“Finally, my feet touched bottom and I could walk with my head out of water but every once in a while I would step in a hole and go under but then I would swim a little way until I could touch bottom again.
“I got on shore near the fifth green of the Acoaxet Club and then I walked to a house where there was a light.
“I got a lot of briars in my feet and had to have them all picked out while I was in the hospital. The house was Mr. Harold Barker’s. I went in and asked them if they would take me in. They didn’t know me at first. They wrapped me up in a lot of clothes and sat me down in front of the fireplace. I hadn’t felt cold before but then I felt frozen all through.
“It was quarter past six by the clock in Mr. Barker’s house when I went in. I guess I was in the water for a half-or three-quarters of an hour.
“It was quite a while before my mother found me there because the telephone wires were down and there was no automobile at the Barker’s. But I’m all right now.