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October 29, 2011

Perfect Storm: 20 years after

Memories fresh for those closest to losses

Roberta Tyne Smith, now 60, recalls hearing the phone ring 20 years ago this weekend — at 5 p.m. on Halloween in 1991.

On the line was the ex-wife of Smith's brother, fishing captain Billy Tyne, calling to tell Roberta that the Andrea Gail was three days overdue.

"I was in the middle of getting ready to go trick-or-treating with my three sons," said Smith, who now lives in Manchester. "But life changed dramatically from that day forward.

"My biggest regret is that Billy never got to see his children grow up. Billy loved his children more than anything. He always looked forward to coming home and spending time with them."

Tyne and his five-man crew on board the Andrea Gail were lost in what is today known as The Perfect Storm.

And the telling of their story — both in Sebastian Junger's best-selling book "The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea," published in 1997, and again in the blockbuster Hollywood film of the same name, released in 2000 — has made the term "perfect storm" a common part of the American lexicon.

But memories of the storm — and the Andrea Gail tragedy — remain painful here in Gloucester, especially for the families who can never forget those days two decades ago.

The so-called "storm of the century" was a deadly combination of three weather fronts comprised of southward-moving arctic energy which collided with a northward-moving tropical storm combined with an offshore Atlantic storm. The meteorological phenomena began developing over the western Atlantic on Oct. 26, 1991, hitting its peak on Oct. 30, and finally passing through by Nov. 1.

The trail of damage, which extended from Nova Scotia to Florida, sunk boats, killed 13 people and ravaged parts of the East Coast with damage estimated close to $500 million.

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