Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Devastation of the Okeechobee Hurricane

The aftermath in West Palm Beach
The Okeechobee Hurricane or, in Puerto Rico, Hurricane San Felipe Segundo, occurred in September of 1928. The hurricane made landfall in the Leeward Islands, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and the state of Florida. The Okeechobee Hurricane was at different times a category three, four and five hurricane as it made its destructive path through these locations. The damage caused by this hurricane was at the time estimated to be one hundred million dollars. By today’s standards that would be equal to one billion dollars. A total of 4,078 people or more perished as a direct result of the storm.

The Okeechobee Hurricane was first spotted 900 miles east of Guadeloupe on September 10, 1928. Two days later, on September 12, the hurricane struck the island chain as a category three. The storm caused around 1,200 deaths in Guadeloupe and major property damage. The hurricane then hit the Leeward Islands causing 45 deaths. The damage to crops and property was devastating.

The very next day, the hurricane was at a category five when it made landfall in Puerto Rico. Winds were reported around 160 miles an hour on the island. Around 36 hours before the storm hit, the residents were warned of the danger. They were able to prepare, so loss of life was comparably low with only 300 fatalities. Hurricane Okeechobee was responsible for 50 million dollars (500 million dollars today) worth of damage in Puerto Rico. Several hundred thousand people on the island lost their homes.

The hurricane then moved across the Bahamas as a category four. In the Bahamas, residents were also prepared. There was not a single fatality on the island. Though, 18 people went missing when their sailboat was lost at sea. They are presumed dead.

On September 16, Hurricane Okeechobee made landfall in the state of Florida as a category four. The results were devastating. The eye of the storm passed over Palm Beach County and went straight for Lake Okeechobee. Most of the damage sustained on the Florida coast was in the area of Palm Beach, but loss of life in the area was minimal. There were only 26 fatalities. The population near Lake Okeechobee would not be nearly as lucky.

When the hurricane finally hit Lake Okeechobee winds were around 140 miles per hour. As the winds blew southward across the lake, a storm surge overflowed a dike on its southern edge. This resulted in floods covering hundreds of square miles of farming land and communities. A smaller flood on the northern part of the lake occurred a little later, when the dikes there crumbled.

Many of the bodies of the deceased were lost as floodwaters poured into the Everglades. The floodwaters remained for some weeks, so it was very difficult for relief workers to recover and bury the dead. Eventually mass graves were dug for the bodies, but after a few days even that was not enough. The bodies began to decay in the Florida sun, so survivors were forced to burn the dead.

All told, 2,500 people or more were killed in Florida that fateful day. Around 1,100 of them were buried in one grave in the Port Mayaca Cemetery. The hurricane caused 25 million dollars(250 million dollars today) worth of property damage in Florida.

After leaving Lake Okeechobee, the hurricane moved northeast over Florida and into Georgia and the Carolinas causing only minimal damage in these places. In the aftermath of the hurricane, it became apparent to authorities that flood control on Lake Okeechobee needed to be brought up to par. Building codes were also changed in the hopes that future hurricanes would not cause such extensive damage.


Doup, Liz, 1928-Okeechobee, Sun-Sentinel, September 11, 1988

Wikipedia, Okeechobee Hurricane, retrieved 6/5/06,

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