Oakland Beach 6 - Hurricane Carol and the 50s.
The problems that beset Oakland Beach in the 1930s and 1940s continued into the 1950s unabated. It was during this decade that another natural disaster wreaked havoc in the area. This time it was Hurricane Carol which struck with great devastation on August 31, 1954. Property damage in the state of Rhode Island exceeded $90,000,000. Nearly 4000 homes and 200 boats were destroyed and sadly, 19 lives were lost.
The Warwick Beacon on Friday, September 3, 1954, reported. “Hurricane Strikes Oakland Beach and Conimicut Areas Hardest; Estimated $3,000,000 Damage.” The article, by Lucy Laventhol, went on to say, “Five persons are dead, at least 50 injured as a mass clean-up continues ….The peak of the storm with wind gusts at 100 miles per hour hit Warwick about 12:30 Tuesday. Waterfront areas were reported to have lost 170 to 200 houses…the National Guard was enforcing martial law in at least 3 seaside communities.” This included Oakland Beach where about 80 homes were destroyed and 300 people were left homeless. Laventhol tells us, “Water rose as high as Stender’s Cafe near the Midway. Waterfront residents were evacuated in school busses to the fire station and the Oakland Beach School, where the Red Cross provided food and clothing for about 200 people.”
According to the Warwick Beacon, the dead at Oakland Beach included John W. Beland, 34, of 456 Pequot Ave. His body was found in the water near Ottawa Avenue. Also lost in the storm were Francesco Gallo and his wife Caterina, both about 72 years old. “They died in their storm-swept summer home on Seaview Drive.
Gaetano Gallo, son of Francesco and Catherina, recorded the horror of the day. He recorded how they had fled to the second floor when the water began to rise. He recounted, “We were together in a bedroom. The water rose four feet in that room and the house began to rock from side to side. Then I grew confused, but I remember the house breaking apart and it getting dark.” Gaetano was able to cling to a large section of wall and rode out the storm for an estimated two hours. His parents were not so fortunate.
Eventually the storm lost its fury and within a few days, power was restored and Oakland Beach residents began the long process of restoring and rebuilding wherever possible. Despite the horror of the time, there were a number of residents who managed to keep their sense of humor. One example used in the Beacon recounted that a man in Oakland Beach, whose house was blown down the beach to Buttonwoods, was overheard to say, “Well, I always wanted to live in Buttonwoods.”