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Memories of Hurricane Gloria linger on Long Island 30 years later

A home on the western end of Fire

A home on the western end of Fire Island is missing part of its roof on Sept. 28, 1985, as a result of Hurricane Gloria. Credit: ken spencer / Newsday / Ken Spencer

The day after Hurricane Gloria slammed into Long Island thirty years ago, Dana Wallace went to check on his father who had ignored evacuation warnings and stayed on Fire Island with his dogs.

The storm that drove tens of thousands of people to flee flood-prone areas washed away hills of sand that protected his dad's bungalow, which sat at the edge of the beach.

"He had a small house on the oceanfront. It was nice and it was snugged in the dunes," Wallace, 70, of Ocean Beach remembered. "The next day it was sitting on stilts, 6 feet in the air."

Wallace's father, who was also named Dana Wallace and has since died, told John Jiler, author of "Dark Wind: A True Account of Hurricane Gloria's Assault on Fire Island," that he did not want to rebuild.

"For what?" the older Wallace said. "To have it all demolished by the next big wave?"

As Long Island and rest of the Eastern Seaboard this week prepared for the possible arrival of Hurricane Joaquin, images of the devastation brought on by Gloria lurked just beneath the surface of people's memories.

Other than Hurricane Bob, which passed over Montauk Point on the eastern tip of the Island in 1991, the last hurricane to strike the island was Gloria, a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 95 mph. It made landfall on Sept. 27, 1985. It crushed homes, toppled trees and left about 750,000 Long Island Lighting Co. customers, more than two-thirds of the company's customers, without power, some for 11 days.

The storm forced about 30,000 people to temporarily abandon their homes and the cost of the cleanup reached $300 million. Soon after Gloria struck, President Ronald Reagan declared Long Island a disaster area.

While superstorm Sandy did more damage than Gloria, it was a tropical storm when it struck Long Island.

Laura A. Lindley, 61, who still lives in the same Babylon house that was flooded during Gloria, said she tries not to think about these powerful storms because it makes her want to move.

Back in 1985, Lindley and her husband, Walter Lindley, evacuated before Gloria came knocking, and they were glad they did. When the couple returned to their two-story home near Frederick Canal, they had to park the car more than a quarter-mile away.

"There was still water in the streets," Lindley said. "I remembered walking down the street and it looked like a tornado had come down the block. All the trees had fallen. They lined up perfectly. They were all facing north."

Chairs, lawn furniture and lots of other debris bobbled in the bay like children's toys floating in an inflatable pool.

"When we opened the garage the water came out," she said. "The basement was filled with water."

After Gloria, local governments revised evacuation plans for those living in coastal areas and people bought generators, former Long Island Regional Planning director Lee Koppelman said, but they have not learned their lessons and have continued to build on Fire Island and in the flood plains.

"What they did was eliminate the smaller houses, and now they have McMansions there," he said. "After [superstorm] Sandy, they put them on stilts."

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