Okeechobee Hurricane: Okeechobee Hurricane Affected Areas and Other Facts!
Forgotten Natural Disaster: The Okeechobee Hurricane
The witnesses to the great Okeechobee hurricane are most likely no longer alive, because the tragedy took place 93 years ago, precisely in 1928 in Florida. But the remaining records in the archives that we have studied give us a first-hand account of the story. Strong gusty winds, fallen trees, total destruction of buildings and churches across the state, large streams of water that swept away people – so describe the hurricane that struck America in 1928.
Thousands of dead bodies, most of the dead were African American migrants who had come to work in sunny Florida. Because of the number of deaths, people were buried without headstones or coffins, just buried without any identification signs.
Today, Floridians and residents across America consider Hurricane Andrew in 1992 to be one of the state’s most ferocious natural disasters, with nearly 70 deaths and a loss of $25 billion to Florida’s economy. But everyone has forgotten that the Great Hurricane Okeechobee on September 26, 1928, did more damage and caused more deaths than Andrew. From people’s memories, it is clear that the hurricane’s power was so great that it destroyed cities in a matter of hours, killing entire families of people in seconds. The names of families are forever erased from history, as many were not even found after this vicious hurricane. But, thanks to the information gathered, it is accurate to say that Palm Beach Paradise County was completely destroyed and wiped out.
The hurricane also caused a whopping $15 billion in damage for its time. This amount of money was enough to take the state several years to recover from the aftermath of the hurricane. What is more important than money is people’s lives, and that is what the hurricane took a huge number of! Comparing statistics and the 1928 Lake Okeechobee hurricane facts, we can see that the Okeechobee hurricane took almost three thousand lives, which really gives it the second place in the number of victims in the history of the United States after the famous hurricane in the state of Texas, in Galveston, about which we have already written an article. Stay tuned to our articles, so you don’t miss out on all the interesting facts and be aware of everything our ancestors experienced!
Such details and important hurricane Okeechobee facts of the disaster are the only legacies the survivors of the hurricane have left us. Why is there so little information about the hurricane on the internet? There are political and economic reasons, namely because the authorities did not want to cause panic and intentionally decreased the death toll and kept the damage quiet so as not to spoil the tourist season. It was tourism that gave most of the money in the state budget. But knowing the actual death toll, we will never forget the horrific storm! For us, the storm of 1928 will forever be remembered as a deadly Sunday night.
1928 Okeechobee Hurricane Affected Areas
It is known for sure that this hurricane has affected the Western part of the African continent, then went toward islands Cape Verde and the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. It did not stop and went further causing damage in the French region of Guadeloupe and the American Virgin Islands. Two island states were tragically affected by the hurricane, namely The Bahamas and Puerto Rico. Finally, it hit the Eastern Coast of the USA – Florida state. There were thousands of square miles affected by the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane.
1928 Okeechobee Hurricane Facts
On the evening of September 16, 1928, residents of Florida’s southern shore of Lake Okeechobee were taken by surprise by a hurricane that caused the lake to overflow its banks dramatically. An interesting Lake Okeechobee hurricane fact is that this was not the first time a ferocious storm had visited south Florida. In 1926, a major Miami hurricane raged for some time around this lake. Because of its geographic location, the “sunshine state,” as Florida is called, is vulnerable to hurricanes originating in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Lake Okeechobee, which means “big water” in the Seminole Indian language, is located in the south of the Florida Peninsula. It is relatively shallow, but very large in terms of its area of 1174 square miles and located in a subtropical climate zone.
The lake is a watershed of rivers (particularly the Kissimmee River) flowing through the state from the north too south to the Everglades, a swampy region stretching to the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula. According to various Okeechobee hurricane 1928 facts, on September 10, 1928, reports came from ships at sea of a hurricane that originated east of Guadeloupe Island and set out to wreak destruction and death. Three days later it reached the island of Puerto Rico. Interesting Lake Okeechobee hurricane 1928 fact: with wind speeds in excess of 260 kilometers per hour, this hurricane was considered the first hurricane in history to be classified as a Category 5. This is the highest category of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. After leaving its mark on the Caribbean islands, the hurricane headed toward the North American mainland. At about a quarter past 7 p.m. on Sept. 16, it reached southern Florida; it was now a Category 4 hurricane. With furious fury, it swept through the East Coast town of West Palm Beach and headed toward Lake Okeechobee.
Many of the black laborers who inhabited the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee came from the Caribbean islands to work the fertile land of Florida. Almost anything could grow on the dark, fat soils: vegetables, sugarcane, fruit. Quite rightly, the land in the area was called the black gold. Most of the farmworkers lived in mud shacks, and few dirt roads connected villages like Belle Glade and South Bay. After a devastating storm in 1926, the lake was enclosed by a 2.5-meter-high earthen dam at the order of the authorities. This barrier provided protection only if the rains were not too heavy and with little wind. But on that Black Sunday in September, the dam was unable to withstand the incredible force of the wind. In addition, in the weeks leading up to the storm, heavy rains caused the water level in the lake to rise sharply. To make matters worse, the water in the lake rose several times above the normal level during the first hours of the storm.
A southwest wind blew over the lake at a speed of 150 mph and breached the dam on the south side. Okeechobee lake after the hurricane flooded hundreds of square miles. Houses were torn from their foundations and collapsed, the streets became impassable. That day, the residents of the lake neighborhoods received a warning about the impending hurricane and took shelter at higher elevations. But the hurricane was delayed, and many returned to their homes just in time for the “delayed” hurricane to strike.
1928 Lake Okeechobee Hurricane Aftermath
It is almost impossible to establish the exact number of victims since approximately 75% of the dead were illegal black immigrant workers who were not officially registered. There are two versions regarding the victims in Okeechobee after the hurricane. The first statistics were provided by the Red Cross and by their count up to 2,000 people died in the aftermath of the Lake Okeechobee hurricane. But dozens of years later, a new study was carried out by the National Weather Service, and it completely disproved the previous statistics. For the newly revised figures, more than 2,500 people died. If the latest figures are to be believed, the aftermath of the Lake Okeechobee hurricane canal ranks second in the number of hurricane victims in all of American history.
The authorities placed a memorial at the mass graves of white people but forgot about the graves of black workers. This gave rise to widespread protests in the United States for black people’s rights, and the controversy continued for a long time. Lake Okeechobee after the hurricane came to its normal life, as none of these have ever happened. After the 1926 and 1928 floods, the Okeechobee County Flood Control Board was created. The Herbert Hoover Dam was built around the lake in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers. The lake shores were enclosed in concrete embankments and more than 1200 miles of water channels were dug.
That was a tragic page in our history, and we should not forget it! Nature is beautiful when calm, but once it is raging, it can bring destruction and deaths. Thank you for reading this article till the end, we have much more to come!