Hurricane Carol recalled by Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy in conversation with Richie Earle in 2004

Michael McCarthy lived at Westport Point, near Shorty’s.

Tell us what your relationship is to Shorty and what you were doing when you were 12 years old.

Mike:  Well, my mother and father were very good friends with Shorty and his wife and Mrs. Leach, better known as KH, was a sickly woman. And my mother took care of her forever because we lived in the same house. So when Shorty and his wife moved down here in the springtime and didn’t come back to the fall, summertime when I got out of school, sister and I, all four of us came down here and lived in the upper apartment in the back of the Wharf house. There’s four apartments in the house.

 So I was very, very fortunate to grow up as a young kid in Westport Point. I mean there was no such thing as hanging out on the corner because Shorty Leach would give you enough work at four o’clock in the morning for two days. He’d come back at 10 o’clock and want to know if it was done yet. Now he didn’t do that once, he’d do that two or three times during the day, wanted to know what took you so long. But he slept about three hours a day himself.

 So anyway, Hurricane Carol, 1954. I’m ready to come downstairs in the morning. I’ve been working at that for two hours because my mother say, “Well don’t go down here. It’s too early. It’s too early.” So I come downstairs and the television’s on and what’s on was the Today Show at nine o’clock in the morning with Dave Garroway.

 Dave Garroway was saying that the storm was going to hit at 55 miles an hour at Long Island, three o’clock in the afternoon. Well, it’s blowing 40 miles an hour then right here and raining so hard like you were saying, [Inaudible 00:42:29]. It’s raining sideways. It’s not raining up and down, it’s right sideways. So George is getting everything together to move out of the house. You can’t do anything in the middle of the storm except just gather everybody together and clothes and whatever.

 When I walked out of the house, probably 10 o’clock in the morning, plus I was 12, the water was to my knees in the driveway. That’s right across the street here. We went up the road here to, which was Dr. Fells at the time, and then it was [inaudible 00:43:02] son-in-law, you said his name earlier, had that [inaudible 00:43:05].

Mike:  John Kenny’s house. That’s the house.

Mike:  The water came up to the porch of that house. Right across the street was Paul DeNadel’s house. The gas tanks, the hundred pound propane tanks came off Paul’s house. They were dancing around on the street, shooting out gas. But I watched this building across the road, which is 34 foot square, bore right through this hole and it never hit anything. Now Shorty Leach if he had an anchor on the rope, he could have stopped it, but of course you never have what you need at the right time. But just throwing one through the window, it landed up in ? yard up the road here.

On the grass, there’s a picture of that up here that I’ve seen. All the windows and doors worked. Building wasn’t hurt, floated away like a boat. Now the only problem with getting it back down to Westport Point is the road’s 26-foot wide. So they had to cut the building in half. They cut the 10-foot off this north section of the road and brought it down in two pieces. We were back in business or back in business 11 days after the storm. It took about 18 days to get electricity. It was quick. George did everything very fast. If you knew Shorty, he made a decision and he did it. But the house was not as wrecked as bad as it was in ’38. This end was blown out. There was no wall on this east side. The other side, all the windows were gone.

But the devastation to my life as a 12-year-old was a disaster because it was everything that I enjoyed as a young kid. And I watched a man put all the pieces back together. Now what that does for you is give you a work ethic that you carry through the rest of your life. Same way as your dad did. Put his business back together a couple of times. But I watched him do it. He did it all along all on his own. He didn’t go out and get any fancy help. Dill Massey, as you probably remember, some of the folks here, Dill Massey was the carpenter here in town, put everything back together. But it devastated me. But I learned right then on the 31st of August, 1954, a couple of things.

I watched the man lose his business. I watched everything I ever liked and loved go away. And also in the afternoon, just like today, at noontime the sun come out. He had a brand new 1954 Chevy pickup. And at that point in time, the north end of a store up here, you could drive down and go through right to Masquesatch and everything from Westport Point, there was no bridge there. Everything ended up in Masquesatch. He taught me how to drive his pickup that day, that afternoon because I knew all the boats and he couldn’t leave it. And I went up with two or three grown men and started pulling boats down.

Well, the end of that story is that in probably October or November of that year, I traded the pickup because it looked like it’d been in a war because I take it down through every trees and piece of brush going down that laneway. But it was quite an experience. And it’s maybe why I fight hurricanes today, I don’t know. But I’ve been the emergency management director here in Westport for the last 20 years working with guys like Richard and a couple of different police chiefs, a couple of different fire chiefs. And we have a good relationship. I think we holler about tremendous respect for each other.

And certainly we’ve done some things like over on East Beach, there’s a hundred trailer sites over there that Tom has the ability to move off without people getting killed and losing their property or without people trying to get back to see what’s left, which after the hurricane there’s not going to be much left but twisted metal anyway. But they want to get back. We have a good relationship with the state, a reservation over here who listen to us. We tell them we wanted to close down and get everybody out of there, they do it. So we’re looking back, but we all look forward. Every year, we have a couple of these storms that make you nervous.

Charlie made me nervous a couple of weeks ago because it’s one of those storms that you don’t know what’s going to happen or it’s going to intensify or it’s going to come at you and hey, it’s great to look at it today. You can look back and say, “Oh that was nothing.” But they always have a perfect vision what the [inaudible 00:47:53]. But that was one of those storms you’re not sure of. I would much rather have a hurricane that’s coming right at me and it’s got 140 mile an hour wind and then I know what to do. We all know what to do.

Richie Earle:  Get your hands in, Frank.

Mike:  Yes and like they say, “It blew so hard I watched the chicken lay the same egg three times.” The problem is that 80% of the people that live in a flood zone have never been through a serious hurricane. And the advantage to that is it’s people like Bill Tripp and Richie Earle and myself that have been through this. You’ve seen it happen. When we talked to these people, people were nuts. Well, it’s only going to be a wind. Let’s have a hurricane party. This is the kind of a hurricane party you should have. There’s no hurricane coming.

The last thing the police need is another drunk on the road. But thank you for coming. Thank you for coming down to this because I don’t think that maybe I’ll be around for the 75th, but I hope…

Richie Earle: We’ll see. They will shorten it up to 60.

Mike:  Yeah, I’ll probably be sitting in a wheelchair with [inaudible 00:49:12] down my chair. But thank you folks for coming. Certainly I’ve seen some old friends here that I haven’t seen some in 20 or 30 years. Been a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.