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Effects of the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane in Florida

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Hurricane Four
Category 4 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
1928 Okeechobee Hurricane Analysis 13 Sep.jpg
Surface weather analysis of the storm nearing Puerto Rico
DurationSeptember 16–18, 1928
Winds1-minute sustained: 145 mph (230 km/h)
Pressure929 mbar (hPa); 27.43 inHg
Damage$25 million (1928 USD)
Areas affectedFlorida
Part of the 1928 Atlantic hurricane season

The effects of the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane in Florida included at least 2,500 fatalities in the state of Florida, making this the second deadliest tropical cyclone in the history of the contiguous United States, behind only the 1900 Galveston hurricane. The hurricane originated from a tropical depression that formed near Dakar, Senegal, on September 6. Traversing the Atlantic Ocean, the cyclone struck the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas as a powerful hurricane. Early on September 17, the storm made landfall near West Palm Beach, Florida, as a Category 4 hurricane on the modern day Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale. Thereafter, it moved further inland across the Southeastern United States and became extratropical over North Carolina on September 20, before the remnants lost their identity over Ontario on September 21.

Along the east coast of Florida, the most severe damage was reported from Miami to Fort Pierce, particularly in Palm Beach County. In West Palm Beach, one of the most severely affected coastal cities, a total of 1,711 houses were destroyed and 6,369 others suffered damage, which left about 2,100 families homeless. Additionally, the hurricane demolished 268 businesses and affected 490 others. There were four deaths, and severe damage totaling just under $13.8 million (1928 USD). At Palm Beach, which had many houses owned by wealthy individuals, approximately 1,500 houses and 500 businesses were damaged. Damage totaled around $10 million. Inland, many communities on the southern and eastern shores of Lake Okeechobee, such as the cities of Belle Glade, Canal Point, Chosen, Miami Locks (today Lake Harbor), Pahokee, and South Bay, were ravaged by flooding after storm surge resulted in water pouring out of the shallow lake over the small dikes. Numerous structures were swept away or destroyed, and at least 2,500 people drowned. Overall, the hurricane left at least $25 million in damage.


Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale
Map key
  Tropical depression (≤38 mph, ≤62 km/h)
  Tropical storm (39–73 mph, 63–118 km/h)
  Category 1 (74–95 mph, 119–153 km/h)
  Category 2 (96–110 mph, 154–177 km/h)
  Category 3 (111–129 mph, 178–208 km/h)
  Category 4 (130–156 mph, 209–251 km/h)
  Category 5 (≥157 mph, ≥252 km/h)
Storm type
■ Subtropical cyclone
▲ Extratropical cyclone / Remnant low / Tropical disturbance / Monsoon depression

A tropical depression developed just offshore the west coast of Africa on September 6. The depression strengthened into a tropical storm later that day, shortly before passing south of the Cape Verde Islands. Further intensification was slow and halted by late on September 7. However, about 48 hours later, the storm resumed strengthening and became a Category 1 hurricane on the modern-day Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale. The system reached Category 4 intensity before striking Guadeloupe on September 12. Around midday on September 13, the storm strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane, peaking with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (268 km/h). About six hours later, the system made landfall in Puerto Rico; it was the only recorded tropical cyclone to strike the island as a Category 5. After emerging into the Atlantic, the storm weakened slightly, falling to Category 4 intensity. It began crossing through the Bahamas on September 16. Early on September 17, the storm made landfall near West Palm Beach, Florida, with winds of 145 mph (235 km/h). While crossing Florida, the system weakened significantly, falling to Category 1 intensity late on September 17. It curved north-northeastward and briefly re-emerged into the Atlantic on September 18, but soon made another landfall near Edisto Island, South Carolina, with winds of 85 mph (140 km/h). Early on the following day, the system weakened to a tropical storm and became extratropical over North Carolina hours later.[1]

After World War I, South Florida experienced a land boom. The land boom brought new construction and large population increases, with the number of residents in West Palm Beach quadrupling between 1920 and 1927. A New York Times article from 1925 noted that the development in Florida "yields no parallel".[2] However, the land boom began faltering after the 1926 Miami hurricane and real estate scams. Inland, the communities along the shore of Lake Okeechobee were mostly an agrarian society. Agricultural productivity rapidly took hold in the area due to the rich, black muck soil.[3] Prior to the 1928 hurricane, Lake Okeechobee was surrounded by a mud dike averaging 4 ft (1.2 m) in height.[4] The southwest side of dike was breached during the 1926 Miami hurricane, devastating Clewiston and Moore Haven and drowning as many as 300 people.[5] Since 1924, the Florida Legislature attempted to secure authorization and funding for flood control around Lake Okeechobee. However, according to Congressman Herbert J. Drane, little had been done to mitigate a similar disaster.[6]


In the days prior to the storm, several forecasters declared that there was virtually no chance of the hurricane making landfall in Florida. Richard W. Gray, chief meteorologist at the Weather Bureau office in Miami, predicted on September 12 that the storm would move westward and eventually dissipate over the Yucatán Channel.[7] However, the hurricane instead moved northwestward after striking Puerto Rico.[1] On September  14, a newspaper noted that there "seemed to be a tendency toward a curve east-ward," meaning that a landfall in Florida was highly unlikely.[8] A. J. Mitchell of the Jacksonville Weather Bureau office stated that "the storm no longer threatens the lower East Coast of Florida.", while Gray declared it "improbable that it [the hurricane] will affect the east coast of Florida." Mariano Gutiérrez-Lanza of the Jesuit observatory in Belen, Cuba, agreed and noted that Cuba and Florida should not be concerned by the hurricane. However, that same day, a weather report received by a wireless station in Jupiter indicated that Florida would indeed experience "some or all of the storm."[9]

Although the local newspapers such as The Palm Beach Post began acknowledging on September  15 that the hurricane may strike Florida,[9] Gray remained entirely confident that the storm would not make landfall and instead predicted that winds would reach only 35 mph (56 km/h).[10] However, Gray still issued storm warnings from Miami to Titusville and also advised that "every precaution should be taken in case hurricane warnings should be found necessary on the east Florida coast." Early on September 16, a hurricane warning was issued from Miami to Daytona Beach, with Gray predicting that the storm would make landfall near Jupiter. The agency advised residents to enact precautions for the hurricane, citing the potential for strong winds and waves. Throughout the day, hurricane warnings were also posted for the west coast from Punta Rassa to Apalachicola, and after the storm recurved, hurricane warnings were extended along the east coast to Jacksonville.[11]

Despite the perceived improbability of landfall in the days preceding the storm's passage, the West Palm Beach chapter of the American Red Cross began preparing for the storm.[12] Dr. William J. Buck, likely the only doctor between Pahokee and Moore Haven and also president of the Belle Glade town council and the founder of the town's American Legion post, was skeptical of the Weather Bureau's predictions of the storm missing South Florida. He and his legionnaires warned residents in the Lake Okeechobee region of the approaching cyclone.[13] At South Bay, Frank Schuster made several car trips to save 211 people by transporting them to higher ground.[14] The Seminoles at the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation in Glades County evacuated to higher ground after observing retreating wildlife.[15] Hours before the storm made landfall, many in the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee either crowded into a house or evacuated to the building they believed was securest, such as the Belle Glade Hotel, the Glades Hotel, and Henry Martin's store in Belle Glade, with the Glades Hotel sheltering 20 people and the Belle Glade Hotel having nearly 150 refugees.[16] About 500 people in Lake Worth were sheltered inside the Gulf Stream Hotel during the storm.[17] In West Palm Beach, food and thousands of candles, kerosene lamps, and boards were sold on September 16. A number of residents boarded up their homes and then secured their ornamental trees and plants.[18] At the building then being used as the Palm Beach County Courthouse, approximately 500 people sought shelter inside.[19] In Jupiter, 20 people sought refuge in a grocery store, while 25 others stayed at a newly constructed elementary school. A number of African Americans took shelter in a school building in West Jupiter.[20]


Aftermath of the hurricane in southern Florida

Strong winds struck southern Florida as the hurricane moved ashore, with three unofficial reports of 100 mph (160 km/h).[11] In Miami to the south of the center, winds reached 78 mph (126 km/h),[21] and farther south, Key West reported winds of only 39 mph (63 km/h). The eye at landfall was 25 mi (40 km) wide, and after moving inland crossed Lake Okeechobee, where a calm was reported for 30 minutes. Winds at Canal Point, adjacent to the lake, were estimated as high as 160 mph (255 km/h); the anemometer blew away after reporting sustained winds of 75 mph (120 km/h). The pressure at Canal Point dropped to 942 mbar (27.82 inHg). The lowest pressure north of Lake Okeechobee was 966 mbar (28.54 inHg) in Bartow, and along the west coast, winds reached 31 mph (50 km/h) in Tampa.[11]

Overall, property damage was estimated at $25 million. It is estimated if a similar storm were to strike as of the year 2002, it would cause about $16 billion in damages.[3] The cyclone remains one of three Atlantic hurricanes to strike the southern mainland of Florida with a central pressure below 940 mbar (27.76 inHg), the others being the 1926 Miami hurricane and Hurricane Andrew of 1992.[22] Because of well-issued hurricane warnings, residents were prepared for the storm, and the number of lives lost in the coastal Palm Beach County was only 26.[11] However, it is estimated that there were at least 2,500 deaths, primarily in the areas surrounding Lake Okeechobee.[23] Around 75% of the fatalities were migrant farm workers, making identification of both dead and missing bodies very difficult; as a result of this, the count of the dead is not very accurate. The Red Cross estimated the number of fatalities at 1,836, which was taken as the official count by the National Weather Service for many years (and exactly equal to the official count for Hurricane Katrina). Older sources usually list 3,411 as the hurricane's total count of fatalities, including the Caribbean. However, in 2003 the United States death count was revised as "at least" 2,500, making the Okeechobee hurricane the second-deadliest natural disaster in United States history behind the Galveston Hurricane of 1900; a mass grave at the Port Mayaca Cemetery east of Port Mayaca contains the bodies of 1,600 victims of the hurricane.[24]

In addition to the human fatalities, 1,278 livestock and 47,389 poultry were killed, respectively.[23] Agricultural was impacted significantly, with the storm destroying what may have been the largest "citrus crop in the history of the industry". Approximately 6% of oranges and 18% of grapefruit were ruined, respectively. Harvesting the remaining crops was delayed until mid-October due to inundated groves.[25] Communications also suffered severely. Throughout the state, 32,000 households were left without telephone service and 400 poles were broken and about 2,500 others leaning.[26] Then-Governor of Florida John W. Martin estimated that 15,000 families were left homeless in Palm Beach County alone. Additionally, about 11,500 families would need to be "re-established".[27]

Homestead to Lake Worth[]

Storm destruction left in Pompano Beach

The storm produced nearly 6 in (150 mm) of rainfall in the vicinity of Homestead, leaving high water that damaged some truck crops and shrubbery.[28] In Miami, sustained winds reached 60 mph (97 km/h),[29] generally confining damage to awnings, plate-glass windows, trees, and vegetation, while interrupting electrical and telegraph services. Heavy rainfall damaged some homes and offices and left some streets in southern Miami impassable.[30] The Florida East Coast Railway Station in Hallandale Beach was nearly destroyed. Windows and roofs were damaged in Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale, but damage was minor overall.[11] At the latter, the storm downed power lines, telephone wires,[31] and trees, and destroyed car garages.[29] Winds also deroofed some buildings. Storm surge and abnormally high tides inundated portions of coastal roads in the vicinity of Las Olas Boulevard, though little damage occurred to the roadways themselves.[32] The hurricane caused two fatalities in the city.[33] The roadway along the coast to the north of Fort Lauderdale was covered with sand.[32] The recently constructed Pompano Theater in Pompano Beach was severely damaged. The Kester Building, a drug store, and a grocery store also suffered impact.[27] Nearly all small frame houses were destroyed in Deerfield Beach, while several citizens estimated that at least 50% of homes were demolished. The town's post office, depot, and an entire business block were also destroyed. A freight train was blown off its tracks. An eight year old boy drowned in a ditch near where his family sought refugee, while 51 additional people were injured throughout Broward County.[34]

In Boca Raton, longtime resident and husband of former mayor Jones Cleveland "J.C." Mitchell, Floy Mitchell, recalled that almost all buildings suffered some degree of damage, with nearly a third of the structures demolished.[35] A total of 32 homes were damaged, while 4 businesses were demolished and 25 others were severely damaged.[36] At the Cloister Inn, windows were shattered and the roof was damaged. Across the street from the Cloister Inn, 32 freight cars belonging to a train along the Florida East Coast Railway were tossed by the wind into a nearby ditch. A short distance to the north, a warehouse and a building occupied by a restaurant and a store were flattened.[34] One death occurred in Boca Raton.[37] At the Japanese community known as Yamato, several frame homes were demolished, while a store was severely damaged.[38] In Delray Beach, four churches suffered severe damage and the Alta Repp and Seacrest hotels both lost a portion of their roof.[34] A total of 277 homes were demolished, while 750 other dwellings were impaired, leaving about 350 families homeless. Additionally, 77 businesses were damaged and 19 businesses suffered destruction, including an ice plant, a dry cleaner, a mill works plant, and businesses adjacent to the Masonic Temple.[27] The bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway was mostly intact; this was the only passable bridge between Delray Beach and West Palm Beach.[39] The storm left four fatalities and just over $1 million in damage.[27][33] One death occurred after a woman was struck by a falling chimney, while another person died when his house collapsed.[34] A report compiled by The Palm Beach Post on September 17 noted that "several others, mostly negroes, were killed",[40] but listed only one death for Delray Beach on September 18.[41]

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church

In Boynton Beach, 15 people were injured by a roof collapse while taking refugee in the auditorium of a high school.[34] First United Methodist Church was destroyed, along with its records.[42] Eighteen businesses suffered complete destruction, while thirty-four others were damaged. A total of 46 dwellings were destroyed, with another 255 impaired. The hurricane caused approximately $1 million in damage.[27] Under the bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway, two barges were driven under the structure, causing it to move upward by almost 2 ft (0.61 m).[39] In Lantana, all houses were badly damaged,[34] while the Florida East Coast Railway Station was destroyed.[43] The bridge crossing the Intercoast Waterway was moved off its turntable and twisted sideways into the water,[39] while the approaches and tresses were wrecked.[44] One death occurred in the city after a man suffered from exposure and succumbed to his condition on September 27.[45] In Lake Worth, a damage survey shortly after the storm indicated that the hurricane destroyed 600 homes and damaged 1,500 other dwellings, leaving about 700 people homeless.,[27] Overall, less than 10% of homes escaped damage.[46] Approximately 50 businesses were wrecked and 200 others received damage – roughly 75% of buildings in the business district. Several additional buildings were demolished,[27] including a sporting goods store,[46] St. Andrew's Episcopal Church,[27] and First Presbyterian Church.[47] The Oakley Theater was nearly destroyed, with the roof and walls crushed.[48] Strong winds deroofed the Gulf Stream Hotel and severely damaged the fifth and sixth floors, while storm surge left portions of the lobby with up to 7 ft (2.1 m) of sand.[49]

Damage at various locations in Lake Worth

Other severely damaged buildings in the city included the Scottish Rites Cathedral,[46] the Masonic Temple, a hotel, a car dealership, an investment company, and the auditorium of Lake Worth Community High School.[50] Additionally, the Old Lake Worth City Hall was partially destroyed. Along the northwest corner of the building, the exterior wall in its entirety collapsed, while the north tower was destroyed and the bay at the northeastern side of the building was removed. The roof suffered complete destruction. As a result, Lake Worth was without a functional center for city government.[51] A temporary city hall was established at the Lauriston building.[52] Additionally, nearly 700 ft (210 m) of the bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway collapsed,[44] leaving the bridge "virtually beyond repair."[50] Damage in Lake Worth reached approximately $4 million,[27] which included about $400,000 in damage to city properties.[46] Three deaths occurred in Lake Worth, two from illnesses related to exposure to the storm;[53][54] the other was a man who suffered from apoplexy, blamed on excessive exertion in the aftermath of the hurricane.[55] The city of Greenacres, incorporated only two years earlier, was almost completely wiped out during the hurricane in 1926 and was virtually destroyed again by this storm.[56] Two deaths occurred in Greenacres.[57] At Loxahatchee Groves, almost every dwelling was knocked off their foundations.[58] Along the coast, there were only minor washouts between Delray Beach and Briny Breezes, where a few homes suffered slight damage. However, the area north of Briny Breezes to just south of the Lake Worth Casino, was "completely washed away".[39] In South Palm Beach, the Mirimar Inn was nearly destroyed. Its roof was torn off and blown into nearby houses. The structure itself was "twisted" and appeared irreparable.[59]

West Palm Beach to Jupiter[]

Damage in West Palm Beach

In the week leading up to the hurricane, West Palm Beach observed 18.42 in (468 mm) of precipitation, at least 10 in (250 mm) of which fell during the storm.[60] Among the buildings destroyed include a furniture store, pharmacy, warehouse, hotel, school, and an ironworks, while many other structures were unroofed.[27] All of the theaters in the city were damaged. The Kettler Theater, the first theater built in West Palm Beach, suffered severe damage, totaling about $125,000. The Arcade and the Stanley likewise were badly impaired, but the Stanley quickly reopened by October. Additionally, the Flamingo was destroyed, with only walls remaining standing, "and precious little of them."[48] Skylights at the county courthouse shattered, flooding the Criminal Court of Record rooms.[61] Many of the buildings that collapsed were wooden-frame, while the few concrete-built structures remained standing.[62] Only one business on Clematis Street – the main business thoroughfares of West Palm Beach – escaped serious damage.[63] Because the hospital was partially destroyed, a temporary hospital was set up in the Pennsylvania Hotel.[64] However, the hotel itself was damaged; the chimney crashed through 14 floors, causing about $60,000 in damage.[65] The fire station also collapsed, though the fire bell remained intact.[34] At the city library, then located at City Park (now known as Flagler Park), more than half of the books were destroyed and the floor was covered with about 2 ft (0.61 m) of water and mud.[66] Winds shattered a skylight at city hall, damaging bookkeeper records.[63]

Damage at the Dixie Court Apartments

Banyan Boulevard (then known as First Street), considered the auto row of West Palm Beach, was reduced to "a mass of debris."[67] Only two buildings remained standing on the north side of the street between Dixie Highway and Olive Avenue, owning to the frail construction of the business buildings in that section of the city.[68] The roof and equipment in The Palm Beach Post building were damaged after the chimney fell.[69] However, The Palm Beach Post was able to publish a newspaper.[70] At the Palm Beach Times, the building was partly demolished, causing the company's machines to be damaged by rain.[69] Despite the damage, the Palm Beach Times also published a short edition on the afternoon of September 17.[71] The Central Farmers Trust Company, the only bank in the city, was deroofed and flooded.[34] The Comeau Building, which has been listed as a National Register of Historic Place since 1996, suffered severe damage to its roof tiles; they were subsequently replaced.[72] Prior to the storm, the American Legion building was designated as the headquarters for the Red Cross, but the building was severely damaged, forcing the Red Cross to set up its relief post at another building.[68] At Palm Beach High School, then located where the Dreyfoos School of the Arts stands today, the clock tower collapsed.[73] Most buildings at Saint Ann's Catholic Church were deroofed, including the rectory and school facilities,[74] while the Bradley Hall Towers were destroyed.[75] Rainfall entering the buildings damaged furniture, plastering, and vestments.[74] Flamingo Park was among the worst hit areas of the city. Many homes suffered "untold damage", while a shopping center on Lake Avenue experienced near complete destruction. In contrast, the El Cid and Northwood neighborhoods were mainly inflicted with only "superficial" impact. Many streets in Vedado were blocked by fallen pine trees. At Bacon Park, the area west of Parker Avenue was desolate. The L. Van Son House, proclaimed as "one of the most unusual landmarks", was demolished.[59]

Destruction south of the courthouse

In the African American section of the city, where most dwellings were built of discarded material, many homes were damaged. On one street, only two houses did not lose either their walls or roof. Walls and cars were cartwheeling down the streets. During the storm, about 100 people ran to a trash incinerator, a concrete-reinforced building.[76] A few of the local Black churches suffered significant damage. Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church lost many bricks on its front facade and much of the metal grillwork around the entrances,[71] while the building itself was deroofed.[77] Payne Chapel AME Church, then located at Banyan Boulevard and Tamarind Avenue, was destroyed by the storm. St. Patrick's Catholic Church received about $40,000 in damage.[78] Waves washed up mounds of sand and debris across Banyan Boulevard, Clematis Street, and Datura Street, to Olive Avenue.[62] According to county coroner T. M. Rickards, the streets were "shoulder-deep in debris. The suffering throughout was beyond words."[60] A total of 1,711 homes were destroyed and damaged 6,369 others suffered damage, leaving about 2,100 families homeless. Additionally, the hurricane demolished 268 businesses and impacted 490 others.[27] There was severe damage totaling just under $13.8 million and eleven deaths,[27][69] with one from being fatally struck by debris.[41] At the Southern Bell office in West Palm Beach, a barometric pressure of 929 mbar (27.4 inHg), the lowest recorded in the history of the United States at the time.[79]

Storm damage in Palm Beach

Likewise, there was also severe wind damage in Palm Beach. A few buildings constructed by Henry Flagler, such as The Breakers, the Royal Poinciana Hotel, and Whitehall were damaged.[27] At the Royal Poinciana, the hotel's botanical garden, which contained hundreds of exotic trees and plants, was almost completely destroyed. The golf club suffered severe roof damage, while the course was flooded with several inches to several feet of water. Waves inundated and swept away the foliage and trees at the house of J. Leonard Replogle. Edward T. Stotesbury's estate suffered severe damage and looked like "a forest at the front during the war."[67] Rodman Wanamaker's house, known as "La Guerida" and later the "Winter White House" during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, suffered heavy damage during the storm.[27] The Alba (later the Biltmore), Billows, Palm Beach, and Royal Daneli hotels all suffered water damage, while the Alba Hotel was also deroofed. Nearby, the Rainbow Pier only received structural damage to its railings, though the pier office was blown away.[38] Rain entered the building occupied by Hatches, inc., damaging about 50% of the merchandise. Two bridges on State Road 80 were washed out. The Florida East Coast Bridge lost its railing, but remained partially opened to traffic.[67] Approximately 1,500 houses and 500 businesses were damaged in Palm Beach. Damage totaled around $10 million.[27]

Damage to the Premier Hotel in Lake Park (then Kelsey City)

Offshore Palm Beach, two 75 ft (23 m) Coast Guard cutters from Fernandina Beach, 188 and 230, encountered rough seas generated by the hurricane. Their skippers and crews painstakingly moved the ships into Lake Worth through an inlet. Several holes were punctured in 188 and the ship lost its rudder, while 230 lost its steering gear and about 40 ft (12 m) of keel.[80]

Heavy rainfall in Westgate flooded Okeechobee Road.[81] In Riviera Beach, the storm destroyed 500 homes and impacted another 1,000. About 100 businesses were demolished and 50 others suffered losses. Overall, damage in Riviera Beach reached approximately $750,000.[27] The bridge linking Riviera Beach to Singer Island across the Intercoastal Waterway was partly destroyed.[82] Kelsey City, now known as Lake Park, was inflicted with similar impact.[27] During the storm, many residents sought refuge in city hall, which was nearly destroyed by the storm. However, it was later repaired and has been listed as a U.S. National Register of Historic Places since 1981. The gymnasium and auditorium collapsed.[83] Throughout the city, 200 homes were completely wrecked and 300 others were damaged. A total of 75 businesses were destroyed and an equal number suffered impact. The cost of damage in Kelsey City totaled $1 million.[27]

In Jupiter, the hurricane destroyed 50 dwellings and impacted 425 others.[27] A total of six businesses were demolished and thirteen others suffered damage.[60] Storm surge left water waist-deep in some areas. A pavilion near the ocean was swept away. Some boathouses were washed off their foundations and then smashed. A boat at the boathouse near the Florida East Coast Railroad bridge was swept out of the building. Nearby, the Loxahatchee River reached 8 ft (2.4 m) at the railroad trestle. In addition to causing damage to homes and businesses, strong winds also toppled telephone poles and overturned cars. Seventeen windmills were demolished at the Pennock Plantation. Two 300 ft (91 m) towers were knocked over at the Naval Radio Station Jupiter Inlet.[20] At the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, the mortar was reportedly "squeezed ... like toothpaste" between the bricks during the storm, swaying the tower 17 in (430 mm) off the base.[60] The lighthouse keeper, Captain Seabrook, and his son, Franklin, worked to keep the light on during the storm after the electricity went out. After the generator failed to work, they hand-cranked the light's mantle.[23] The building formerly used as a Weather Bureau Office was destroyed. Nearby, six people died after a house was demolished. Six other fatalities occurred west of Jupiter after a school where people sought shelter collapsed.[84] Damage in Jupiter totaled approximately $900,000.[27]

Lake Okeechobee region[]

Approximate area of the flood. Note: The Palm Beach County label is misplaced. North of Canal Point has been in Martin County since 1925.

Inland, the hurricane wreaked much more widespread destruction along the southeast and north coasts of Lake Okeechobee. Residents had been warned to evacuate the low ground earlier in the day, but after the hurricane did not arrive on schedule, many thought it had missed and returned to their homes. In the weeks prior to storm, heavy rainfall caused the lake to rise 3 ft (0.91 m) between August 10 and September 10 and filled nearby canals and ditches. Additionally, precipitation from the hurricane itself caused Lake Okeechobee to rise further.[85] When the worst of the storm crossed the lake, the south-blowing wind caused a storm surge to overflow the small dike that had been built at the south end of the lake. The resulting flood covered an area of hundreds of square miles with water that in some places was over 20 ft (6 m) deep. Houses were floated off of their foundations and dashed to pieces against any obstacle they encountered.[4] Most survivors and bodies were washed out into the Everglades where many of the bodies were never found.[24] Agricultural losses in the area surrounding Lake Okeechobee were also significant, with virtually all crops destroyed and over 150 tractors suffering damage.[25]

On Kreamer Island, many residents received information about the storm when it was too late to evacuate. In some homes, 20–30 people sought shelter inside and later stood on tables and chairs to remain above the water. Most of the homes were swept away into rows of pine trees and others more than half a mile (0.8 km) away. Despite this, only one person drowned on the island.[86] Residents of Torry Island also did not have ample time to prepare for the storm. They attempted to evacuate, but the causeway was already inundated, forcing twenty-three people to seek refuge in a packinghouse. Floodwaters entered the building, forcing the occupants into the rafters. However, the building was eventually pushed into a nearby canal. Ten people drowned, but thirteen others survived by clinging to a barge or tree tops, while one woman tied herself to a telegraph pole. Others that survived were swept far away from where the building once stood. A teenage boy was carried from the packinghouse to the Everglades Experiment Station in Belle Glade – a distance of about 8 mi (13 km).[87] On Ritta Island, a number of people who successfully climbed to the roof of their houses died after being struck by trees or bit by water moccasins.[88]

Belle Glade suffered the most deaths of any city by far, with 611 fatalities confirmed.[33] After the dike at Lake Okeechobee failed, water reached at least 7 ft (2.1 m) above ground in portions of Belle Glade.[89] At the Glades Hotel, water entered the lobby and rose so rapidly that the last two people to reach the second floor nearly drowned in the stairwell.[90] The Glades Hotel was the only building in the city left intact.[91] The first floor of the Belle Glade Hotel was also flooded, forcing the occupants up to the second floor. They were then exposed to the wind and rain after the roof blew off.[90] Nearby, a building containing a restaurant, a furniture store, and a drugstore was deroofed; the 20 to 30 occupants inside fled to the Glades Hotel.[92] Further east, water reached 3 ft (0.91 m) in height at Everglades Experiment Station. The crops in the surrounding area, which were used for experiments, were completely ruined.[93] There, a sustained wind speed of 92 mph (148 km/h) was observed before the anemometer was destroyed. Winds deroofed all buildings except two bungalows, one of which sheltered 40 people, and the service house for the greenhouse. A garage, two labor cabins, and a five-room bungalow were demolished, as was a portion of the greenhouse.[94]

The city of Pahokee, mostly situated atop a ridge, resembled an island due to surrounding high water. Low-lying areas quickly flooded, with several rows of homes swept away, including at Bacom Point and areas near the Pelican River.[95] Many of the deaths in the city occurred when the storm surge that had moved up the river retreated.[96] At the height of the storm, dwellings on the ridge began washing away, with nothing remaining on the west side of the ridge.[97] Overall, approximately 75% of buildings and homes in the city were destroyed, with the bank and school house being "probably the only two buildings left standing in any substantial condition."[98] A total of 153 deaths were confirmed in Pahokee.[33] Newspapers such as The Palm Beach Times initially reported about 450 deaths at Pelican Bay, located between Belle Glade and Pahokee. However, Everglades News editor Howard Sharp noted that the death toll was "not understandable to the persons familiar with the region" and that "there is no 'village of Pelican Bay'".[99] Canal Point and Port Mayaca were likely inundated with only 1.5 to 2.5 ft (0.46 to 0.76 m) of water, sparing the cities significant damage. One death occurred in the former,[100] caused by a man who experienced "heart trouble" following the destruction of his home.[101]

In South Bay, nearly all houses were destroyed and several buildings were unroofed.[27] The structures not suffering any damage floated away. Many boats and barged in the canal were "resting at all angles.", some of which were sunk or disabled, while many homes were washed to the banks of the canal. The streets were littered were broken lumber. Debris such as the remains of custard apple trees, twisted metal roofing, and wood were piled against the bridges.[102] At least 160 fatalities occurred in the city,[27] while the American Red Cross indicated 247 deaths.[33] Throughout the 1920s, Okeelanta suffered several floods and muck fires. Finally, the town was flooded severely during the storm and was subsequently abandoned.[103] Bean City was nearly completely destroyed during the hurricane; only one home remained standing and at least a dozen people perished.[104] But the city was eventually rebuilt by founder Arthur Wells.[105] Sebring Farms was reduced to piles of rubber, with only four tall royal palm trees left standing.[106] Only six people in the town survived.[107] The hotel at Miami Locks (today known as Lake Harbor) was the sole structure to survive the storm.[108] The bodies of many dead animals were resting on the canal banks.[109] Ninety-nine people died in that town.[110] In Chosen, only two people managed to escape a house that sheltered nineteen people. At Henry Martin's store, the building lost its roof during the storm, forcing the occupants to move into the restroom.[87] A house that was full of people floated about half a mile (0.8 km) from its original location. The occupants were unaware that the house was moving until it collided with a railroad embankment.[111] Twenty three people died in Chosen.[33]

As the rear eyewall passed over the area, the flood reversed itself, breaking the dikes along the northern coast of the lake and causing a similar but smaller flooding. Route 98, then known as Conner's Highway, was closed until January, when the bridge across the Onosohatchee River at Taylor Creek was replaced after the original bridge was carried about 150 ft (46 m) upstream during the storm.[112] In Okeechobee County, homes along the lake were destroyed by the storm surge, while dwellings within the city of Okeechobee were severely impacted or demolished by winds of at least 90 mph (140 km/h). However, brick and concrete-structured dwellings received little damage. A number of three-story business buildings collapsed during the storm.[113] Almost all roads were left impassable, while communications were nearly wiped out.[114] Overall, 27 deaths occurred in Okeechobee County. Along the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee, the towns of Clewiston and Moore Haven were both flooded, but much of the damage to houses was due to strong winds.[113] In the former, the railroad tracks were ripped and reduced to "a twisted ribbon of steel".[109]

Floodwaters persisted for several weeks, greatly impeding attempts to clean up the devastation. On October 23, over five weeks after the storm, Florida National Guard Major B. M. Atkinson reported 2 ft (0.61 m) of standing-water along the side of the roads to Belle Glade, Okeechobee, and South Bay.[115]


Rainfall totals associated with the hurricane

In Fort Myers, property damage was slight, limited mostly to scores of small boats and fishing smacks along the waterfront.[116] The Cuban schooner Isabel Alvado sank offshore Boca Grande. The crew, who were immigrants, were rescued by the Coast Guard and later deported.[117] In Martin County, a bridge connecting Stuart and Palm City was severely damaged and closed to traffic as a result. A temporary ferry service across the St. Lucie River was established and operated until repairs to the bridge were complete in the summer of 1929.[118] One fatality was reported in Stuart.[37] In the 1920s, there were plans to build a Hollywood-esque city featuring a movie studio called Picture City. These plans were canceled following the 1928 hurricane and subsequent economic collapse.[119] Throughout Martin County, five deaths and about $4 million in damage occurred, primarily to citrus crops.[104] In Fort Pierce, most of the impact was confined to the waterfront areas. A warehouse, fish houses, docks, and a bridge across the Indian River were destroyed, while several other buildings were unroofed. Damage in the city totaled about $150,000.[27]

In the interior areas of Central and North Florida, impact was mainly confined to agricultural losses, particularly citrus, though wind damage occurred to structures. Between Sebring and Lake Wales, 200 telephone poles were toppled,[120] while 60 other telephone poles were knocked down.[121] In Bartow, business building windows were shattered and signs were knocked down, while several roofs and chimneys also suffered damage.[120] One death was reported in Bartow.[37] Winds gusting up to 70 mph (110 km/h) lashed Lakeland. Many trees were uprooted and several buildings were impacted, including the hospital and a number of businesses. At Florida Southern College (FSC), the north side of the gymnasium collapsed while other buildings on campus were damaged to a less degree. The trees in the citrus grove surrounding FSC lost much of their fruit. Overall, Lakeland suffered about $50,000 in damage.[120] Throughout Polk County, 10% of oranges and about 50% of grapefruit were lost, respectively, with the vast majority of groves losing 60% to 75% of grapefruit.[122]

Nearly all cigar factories in Tampa were closed after wind and rain drove too much moisture into the buildings.[123] In St. Petersburg, a large section of the roof of a car garage was removed. Otherwise, impact was primarily limited to tree branches falling onto electrical wires.[124] Along the Gulf Coast of Florida, telephone lines were reported downed as far north as between Brooksville and Dade City.[125] Offshore, the fishing smack Wallace A. McDonnell was beach near Piney Point, though all of the crew survived.[117] In Orlando, impact to properties was described as slight.[116] Light damage to citrus was reported in Lake and Orange counties, with only about 10% of the crop lost in the former.[126] The storm left one death in Orange City.[37] Winds up to 50 mph (80 km/h) impacted the Jacksonville area, resulting in minor damage at Jacksonville Beach.[127]


Damage and flooding along a street in Lake Worth

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, available cots and blankets were set up in the churches, courthouses, public buildings, schools, warehouses, and other buildings that would be designated as a shelter. The Gulf Stream Hotel in Lake Worth was converted into a hospital. A total of 1,274 people slept in shelters in West Palm Beach on September 17. With the need for additional cots and blankets, a request for them was sent to the United States Army, which promptly sent 2,000 cots and 1,000 blankets from Fort McPherson in Georgia to relief centers in Belle Glade, Boynton Beach, Canal Point, Jupiter, Kelsey City, Pahokee, Riviera Beach, and West Palm Beach. Many other cots and blankets were later transported to the area. A number of winter residents allowed their homes to be used as shelters.[17]

Dr. W. A. Claxton, chief of the Miami Department of Public Welfare, requested antitoxin, typhoid serum, and at least 200 tetanus serums.[128] The Florida Department of Health granted the request. Of the inoculations distributed, there were 10,349 for typhoid, 1,025 for smallpox, and 337 for tetanus. A health bulletin issued on September 28 indicated that due to vaccinations and other efforts by state and local health departments, there was "no outbreak of typhoid, malaria, influenza, or any other communicable diseases, and we do no anticipate any." Overall, 210 doctors and 78 nurses worked in the disaster area, each accumulating more than 50 hours of service.[17]

Olive Street in West Palm Beach

Many other individuals and organizations contributed to relief efforts. A group of men with trucks were dispatched northward from Miami to clear trees and other debris from the roads. They worked quickly enough to reach West Palm Beach by the night of September 17.[17] Early on September 18, a train leaving Miami carried 20 doctors and 20 nurses to West Palm Beach.[129] At least 100 people were brought to Miami for medical treatment.[128] In addition to trains, supplies were transported to Palm Beach County by 93 vehicles making an average of 553 trips per day and 51 trucks recording a mean of 206 trips daily. Thirty-eight motor boats and 4 airplanes also delivered supplies.[17] On September 23, then-Governor of Georgia Lamartine Griffin Hardman offered aid to Florida, urging his state to assist "in every possible way."[130] On November 18, every Catholic church in the United States contributed a portion of their offering, with $84,200 in aid given to Florida and Puerto Rico. Masonic lodges throughout the United States collectively donated more than $107,000.[131]

Colonel E. R. Bradley, one of the wealthiest residents of Palm Beach and owner of a casino in the town, donated $10,000.[78] J. P. Morgan gave also $10,000 to the Red Cross.[131] Then-gubernatorial candidate Doyle E. Carlton contributed $10,000 on September 20 after surveying the damage.[132] A creamery in West Palm Beach quickly distributed 1,400 gallons of milk.[133] In Miami, WQAM hosted a telethon on September 22, which also included live entertainment from a Shriners band at a park amphitheater. The event collected about $1,000 for the victims of the storm.[134] The city of Miami also donated 2 tanks of chlorine, 20 barrels of disinfectant, 24 lanterns, and 5,000 paper cups. City council members of San Francisco, which suffered from a devastating earthquake in 1906, agreed to donate $10,000 to South Florida without discussion. Issaquena County, Mississippi, among the most ravaged by a Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, also contributed money.[78] Although many railroad stations south of Kelsey City were damaged, train service was restored on the morning of September 17.[135] Railroad companies provided free fare to storm victims until October 4, a service used by 1,427 people. After that day, the Red Cross paid for the transportation of people who were destitute.[17]

Looting became a serious issue in the aftermath of the storm, especially in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. In the latter, Police Chief Frank H. Matthews ordered a sunset-to-sunrise curfew, unless a person had a pass or permit signed by Matthews or his assistant, or if "an extreme emergency demands it".[133] The Red Cross would also issued passes. Day and night, militia members and personnel of 124th Infantry Regiment of the Florida Army National Guard patrols the streets of West Palm Beach.[136] On September 19, Governor Martin summoned all Florida National Guard members to serve in other functions as well as patrolling against looting.[137] Several mansions in Palm Beach were robbed, including very expensive paintings stolen at one home. Martial law was declared on September 19, but rescinded the following day. Checkpoints were ordered by Palm Beach County Sheriff Robert C. Baker along the main highways at Lake Worth and Jupiter.[133]

At the south shore Lake Okeechobee communities, Dr. Buck took charge. Because no vehicles were operable, roads flooded, and minimal food and water supplies, Buck ordered nearly 100 women and children to walk to West Palm Beach – a distance of 42 mi (68 km) – seen as their best chance for survival. After several miles, the women and children were eventually met by ambulances from West Palm Beach.[109] Dr. Buck also delegated fellow American Legionnaires and recruited other volunteers to clear the roads in the vicinity of Lake Okeechobee. By the afternoon of September 20, the roads were cleared from Belle Glade to the agricultural station, Chosen, and South Bay.[138] Later, in collaboration with United States Coast Guard members from Fort Lauderdale, the road between Belle Glade and Pahokee was cleared, where debris was piled as high as 5 ft (1.5 m).[139] Dr. Buck also ordered some men to break into the ice house, which would be a source of freshwater.[138]

Funeral procession for bodies buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach

Governor John W. Martin, along with Florida Attorney General Fred Henry Davis, chief engineer Fred C. Elliott, and Florida Adjutant General Vivian B. Collins, assessed the disaster area in the communities along Lake Okeechobee beginning on September 22. After the conclusion of the tour, Martin telegraphed every mayor in Florida to aid the victims of the storm and apologized for not issuing that appeal sooner. Martin also described the scene:

In the six miles between Pahokee and Belle Glade I counted twenty-seven corpses in water or on the roadside but not taken from the water. Total dead on the roadside and not buried and counted but not in plank coffins was one hundred and twenty-six. In six additional miles over five hundred and thirty-seven bodies were already interred. Fifty-seven additional bodies were hauled out of this area today in trucks and tonight four truck loads of bodies were brought from adjoining areas by boat, loaded, and sent to West Palm Beach for burial. One military officer reported to me that while in Belle Glade today for thirty minutes, ten bodies were brought in and added to the pile of bodies, thirty-seven in one pile and sixty in the other.

— Governor John W. Martin, [140]

With nearly 3,000 telephone poles damaged or snapped and 32,000 service outages, Southern Bell and AT&T quickly began work on restoring telephone service, sending workers from their centers in Atlanta and Jacksonville, respectively. The companies shipped about 225 tons of copper wire and 20 rail cars full of poles and switchboards. The Southern Bell office in Delray Beach was nearly destroyed, causing workers to move the service center to a nearby building.[141] By the morning of September 18, water service was restored in the central sections of West Palm Beach and was expected to expand to other areas of the city quickly.[142]

In Palm Beach, about fifty men shoveled sand off Ocean Boulevard and cut down damaged palm trees with crosscut saws.[143] On September 19, then-Mayor of West Palm Beach Vincent Oaksmith issued a "no work, no food" order, effectively stating that all able-bodied men should work toward relief efforts.[90] The Delray Beach City Council issued a similar order.[144] Initially, rebuilding in West Palm Beach was slow. City Manager A. E. Parker issued a public notice that stated "Because of the grave emergency now existing and the great need for shelter, it has not been deemed wise to insist upon building permits for necessary repairs." Many severely damaged buildings were declared "public menaces" and condemned for demolition, effective on October 23. On September 20, the West Palm Beach City Commission held a special session that allowed the City Treasurer to authorize an in advance requisition payment of $50,000 to the Red Cross.[145] Also on the agenda was an anti-price gauging measure, which would fine individuals up to $500 and imprison them for a maximum of 30 days if they sold items above the pre-September 16 price.[146]

In the aftermath of the hurricane in coastal Florida, it became apparent that well-constructed buildings with shutters had suffered practically no damage from winds that caused serious structural problems to lesser buildings. Buildings with well-constructed frames, and those made of steel, concrete, brick, or stone were largely immune to the winds, and the use of shutters prevented damage to windows and the interior of the buildings. Coming on the heels of the 1926 Miami hurricane where a similar pattern had been noticed, one lasting result of the 1928 storm was improved building codes.[147]

A destroyed auto dealership on the coast.

Red Cross[]

Many chapters of the Red Cross in Florida took in refugees, donated goods and supplies, or otherwise provided assistance to storm victims, including the cities of Arcadia, Fort Myers, Haines City, Jacksonville, Sarasota, Sebring, St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Winter Haven, as well as Dade (today Miami-Dade), Indian River, Polk, St. Lucie, and Volusia counties.[17]

In Dade County, the Miami Red Cross Citizens Relief Committee was established. It provided aid for victims of the storm by transporting "hundreds of loaves of bread, gallons of milk, pounds of coffee and sugar, blankets, cots, and medical supplies."[128] The Red Cross, in collaboration with the Extension Division of the United States Department of Agriculture, provided seeds, fertilizer, feed, and gasoline and oil for farmers suffering severe losses. About 150 Fordson tractors were disabled by water damage to their ignitions or other parts. The Ford Motor Company, the manufacturer of the tractors, sent two trucks of parts and two mechanical experts from their plant in Jacksonville. Additionally, the Palm Beach County Farm Loan Fund. After collecting about $100,000, farmers were eligible for $300 loans with at a 5% interest rate. The Red Cross established 22 canteens and emergency feeding centers.[17] By October 28, 10,172 families registered and applied for aid with the Red Cross, about two-thirds of whom resided in Palm Beach County.[11]

Many donations to the Red Cross in New York came after New York City mayor Jimmy Walker and President Calvin Coolidge bought a full-page advertisement in The New York Times.[131] Overall, individual contributions to the Red Cross reached almost $5.9 million, while the organization itself spent about $50,000 on relief efforts. Red Cross expenditures included about $121,200 for agricultural supplies and equipment, $39,800 for boarding and lodging of storm victims, $157,300 for building and repairs, $137,000 for clothing, $66,800 for grants to local chapters, $115,500 for family aid and service registration, $115,000 for field expensive, $40,000 for food, $83,200 for general tool and equipment expenses, $346,300 for household goods, $5,000 for the junior red cross, $71,800 for medical services, $60,300 for relief camps, $45,900 for rescue work, $11,000 for the transportation of storm victims, and $19,900 for other miscellaneous expenses.[17]

The Red Cross was criticized for claims of skimping on aid given to some people and even racial discrimination. Some large families reportedly received as little as $2.[148] In Delray Beach, a woman who completely lost her home, said she was given only "a few old pieces of clothes and a few cans of tomatoes and potted meat and a small can of milk for myself and kids." Grace Campbell, a chair of a workers committee, was quoted in The Chicago Defender stating that only 20% of relief was being dispersed to African Americans.[149] A rumor circulated, which even garnered sympathy from Governor Martin, that a black man named Levi Brown was eating ham in a mess tent and was struck in the head and shoulder with an ax by a Red Cross worker, told him "ham was not for niggers." Brown himself admitted that he was actually assaulted with a meat cleaver in a restaurant.[150] The claims of partiality were refuted by the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Mary McLeod Bethune in a telegraph to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).[151]

Burial of bodies[]

The mass burial site in West Palm Beach

The death toll was by far highest in the economically poor areas in the low-lying ground right around Lake Okeechobee, such as Belle Glade, Chosen, Miami Locks, Pahokee, and South Bay.[152] Around 75% of the fatalities were among migrant farm workers, most of whom were African American.[153] The African American men were ordered at gunpoint to collect bodies. One man was shot for refusing to do so.[154] Despite Prohibition laws at the time, those searching and collecting bodies were given rations of bootleg whisky, which was provided by a local rum-runner. Pioneer Lawrence E. Will stated that "without the stimulated effect of the whiskey ration, it is doubtful if many would have the stamina to continue."[155] The body collectors were given gloves that were regularly disinfected. They would tie usually about half a dozen bodies together by the ankle and then load them onto trucks. After a truck departed, the men would then receive their ration of whisky. This process continued day and night until October, while the search for bodies continued until November 1.[156]

Due to racial segregation at the time, the coffins provided were used for the white victims, most of whom received a proper burial at Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach.[153] The bodies of the African Americans who were killed and some of those whose race could not be identified were disposed of by other means. Some were burned in funeral pyres, while many were placed into mass graves,[24] including about 1,600 in Port Mayaca, 674 at the pauper's cemetery, at least 22 in Miami Locks (now known as Lake Harbor), 28 in Ortona, and 22 in Sebring. There were also unconfirmed reports of bodies buried at Loxahatchee.[157] After the burials were complete, then-Mayor of West Palm Beach Vincent Oaksmith proclaimed an hour of mourning on October 1 for those who died during the storm. A funeral service was hosted by several local clergymen and attended by about 3,000 people, including educator Mary McLeod Bethune. A memorial was placed at Woodlawn Cemetery in memory of the victims of the storm, but no such marker was placed at the pauper's cemetery.[157]

During the next several decades, the mass African American burial site in West Palm Beach was largely forgotten by the public. The city later sold the property, which switched ownership over the years. In 1991, the property was owned by a private individual when the Sankofa Society conducted a blessing ceremony at the site, well-publicized by the local media. Around that time, Robert Hazard, a resident of West Palm Beach, established the Storm of '28 Memorial Park Coalition Inc. to fight for recognition of the black victims of the storm. In December 2000, the city of West Palm Beach purchased the land back for $180,000. Plans for construction of a memorial began. The site was designated a U.S. National Register of Historic Places and a historical marker was added in 2003 during the 75th anniversary of the hurricane.[152] The inequity has caused ongoing racial friction that still exists. The effects of the hurricane on black migrant workers is dramatized in Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.[158]

Economic aftermath[]

The Florida land boom was effectively ended by the hurricane. The region was pushed into economic turmoil even before the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the initial stages of the Great Depression. Potential investors and buyers were skeptical about purchasing land in the area. As a result, property values plummeted. In West Palm Beach, for example, real estates costs dropped 53 percent to $41.6 million (1930 USD) between 1929 and 1930 and further to only $18.2 million (1935 USD) by 1935. Prior to the Wall Street Crash of 1929, several hotels in the area declared bankruptcy, attempted to find new investors, or changed names and management.[159]

Reports of storm damage greatly exaggerated. Damage negligible and confined almost entirely to Palm Beach section. Some fruit blown from trees in Polk county, but crop [damage] was exceptionally heavy. Balance of state escaped losses and Tampa and immediate vicinity untouched ... Exaggerated reports unfair and will do Florida great harm and we will appreciate getting in touch with press and in any other way correcting the same.[160]

G. A. Nash, assistant manager of Trade Board of Tampa

The arrival of the Mediterranean fruit flies in 1929 also contributed to the nearly complete destruction of tourism and citrus in South Florida – two vital economic industries in the region. The federal and state government would spend approximately $7 million (1929 USD) in eradication efforts. There were foreign and domestic bans on the importation of fruits and vegetables from Florida. Programs established by the New Deal and efforts by Florida governors in mid and late 1930s, particularly David Sholtz, brought relief to the economic slump,[161] but the region remained in an abysmal financial state until the onslaught of American involvement in World War II.[162]

Because of the collapsing economic boom and the publicity surrounding the corrupt real estate deals, the severity of the disaster in Southeast Florida was downplayed. The Tampa Tribune owner Peter O. Knight described the situation as "trivial".[163] The Tampa Board of Trade sent a telegraph to the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., on September 17, informing them that the damage had been "exaggerated". The board even considered protesting news agencies that write "exaggerated" reports and warned that there would be requests for retraction.[160] Knight was harshly criticized for marginalizing the disaster, with Palm Beach County Red Cross Chairman Howard Shelby responding with a telegraph stating, "If you serve as a spokesman for the entire state, won't you kindly make a personal visit here?", while the Okeechobee News called Knight "a jackass".[164]

Herbert Hoover Dike[]

A sign advertising the initial completion of the Hoover Dike

To prevent a recurrence of disasters such as the Okeechobee hurricane and the 1926 Miami hurricane, the Florida Legislature created the Okeechobee Flood Control District during its 1929 session, following a recommendation by U.S. Senator Duncan U. Fletcher, among other members of the state's congressional delegation. The Okeechobee Flood Control District authorized to cooperate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in flood control undertakings.[165] Proposals on other ways to prevent a recurrence of the 1926 and 1928 hurricanes were advanced, including "build[ing] a wall down there and keep the military there" in order to prevent further settlement in the area or constructing a dike.[166]

In January 1929, Fred C. Elliott explained during a Congressional hearing that because no state funds were available and state law did not allow for the construction of a dike, Congress was petitioned for funding and authorization. Bror G. Dahlberg, Congressmen Herbert J. Drane and William J. Sears of Florida's 1st and 4th congressional districts respectively, Fred Henry Davis, former Congressman Walter F. Lineberger from California, and U.S. Senator Park Trammell of Florida also testified. Drane stated that he had attempted since 1924 to bring about flood control.[6] After President Herbert Hoover's visit to the area in February 1929, the Corps drafted a new plan which provided for the construction of floodway channels, control gates, and major levees along Lake Okeechobee's shores. A long term system was designed for the purpose of flood control, water conservation, prevention of saltwater intrusion, and preservation of fish and wildlife populations.[165] Congress approved the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1930, signed into law by President Hoover on July 3, 1930.[6]

Former President Herbert Hoover speaking at the dedication ceremony in Clewiston for the completion of the dike in 1961

After the initial completion of the dike, Congress reported in 1943 that total expenditures reached at least $23 million (1943 USD), $19 million of which was for the original construction.[167] The dike was expanded further after flooding during a series of intense hurricanes in the late 1940s, such as the 1947 Fort Lauderdale hurricane, as well as the passage of the Flood Control Act of 1948.[165] The dike was complete in 1961. A ceremony held in Clewiston on January 12, 1961, included a speech from former President Herbert Hoover. Since its completion, the dike almost completely encloses the lake.[168] The only gap is at Fisheating Creek – the mouth located in Glades County near Lakeport – where the dike turns inland and parallels the stream on both sides for several miles, leaving Fisheating Creek as the only remaining free-flowing tributary of Lake Okeechobee.[169]

Since at least the 1990s, concerns related to the dike's stability have grown in response to studies indicating long term problems with "piping" and erosion. Leaks have been reported after several heavy rain events. Proposed solutions to the dike's problems have included the construction of a seepage berm on the landward side of the dike, with the first stage costing approximately $67 million (2008 USD). Several refurbishment projects occurred throughout the years.[170] More recently, from 2007 to 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers spent $500 million (2016 USD) on improvements, including building 21 mi (34 km) of a reinforcement wall inside the dike. In August 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a $830 million (2016 USD) plan to revamp the dike, today considered one of the United States' most at risk of failing.[171]



  • Jay Barnes (2007). Florida's Hurricane History. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-3068-0.
  • Lee Allyn Davis (January 1, 2009). Natural Disasters. New York City, New York: Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4381-1878-9.
  • Eliot Kleinberg (2003). Black Cloud: The Great Florida Storm of 1928. Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7867-1146-8.
  • Jonathan W. Koontz (1997). Lake Worth: Jewel of the Gold Coast. Lake Worth, Florida: Greater Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce. OCLC 58427553.
  • Thomas E. Lodge (2005). The Everglades Handbook: Understanding the Ecosystem. CRC Press. ISBN 1-56670-614-9.
  • Robert Mykle (June 23, 2006). Killer 'Cane: The Deadly Hurricane of 1928. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 1-4617-3370-7.
  • Wayne Neely (2014). The Great Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928. Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse. ISBN 978-1-4917-5446-7.
  • Lawrence E. Will (1961). Okeechobee Hurricane and the Hoover Dike. St. Petersburg, Florida: Great Outdoors Publishing Company.


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