In 1960, on this day New York City suffered the worst storm in its history as a hurricane that by today's standards would be graded Category 4 hit just after 12:30 PM; dubbed "the Jamaica Bay hurricane" because it made landfall near the Jamaica Bay section of Queens, the storm flooded large sections of Queens and Brooklyn and also devastated much of Manhattan and the Bronx. Many of New York's most famous landmarks were heavily damaged or destroyed by the hurricane, which also brought the city's mass transit systems to a screeching halt as flood waters blocked subway tunnels and overran most of the city's major bus routes.
Jamaica Bay Hurricane by Chris Oakley
The hurricane also trashed much of Boston and dumped heavy rains on the White Mountains region of New Hampshire before it finally dissipated off the Maine coast. In its death throes the storm even briefly touched parts of Canada, battering several villages in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with high winds. The storm left behind more than fifty thousand New Yorkers dead or missing and an estimated 125 million USD in property damage in metropolitan New York alone. And it wasn't just the city's trains and buses that were knocked out by the storm; Idlewild Airport would effectively be out of commission for six weeks.
The U.S. Coast Guard received more than a hundred and fifty SOS calls and seventy missing craft reports related to the Jamaica Bay hurricane.
The Yankees, who had been leading the American League standings by one and a half games before the storm, saw their team morale take a shattering blow when manager Casey Stengel suffered a fatal heart attack from the shock of learning that Yankee Stadium had been among the buildings leveled by the hurricane. Deprived of his leadership at a time when it was urgently needed, fell into a protracted slump and would finish the 1960 season nine and a half games behind the eventual AL champion Baltimore Orioles. And having to play their remaining home games at an unfamiliar park across the Hudson in New Jersey didn't help matters much.
One of the biggest casualties of the Jamaica Bay hurricane was the administration of then-mayor Robert F. Wagner, which had been caught largely unawares by the storm and drew intense criticism for its handling of post-storm recovery efforts; by early October, Wagner would resign from office and City Council president Abe Stark would be appointed to serve out the remainder of Wagner's term. 1960 Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon, who was also Dwight Eisenhower's vice-president, would see his own political ambitions dealt a serious blow; as point man for the federal response to the Jamaica Bay hurricane, Nixon would bear the brunt of most of the criticism of that response; in the November general elections he would lose 34 of 50 states to Democratic presidential challenger John F. Kennedy.
The Jamaica Bay hurricane was the kind of mega-storm America hadn't seen since the New England hurricane of 1938 - and wouldn't see again until Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans 45 years later.