It is that time of the year. The hurricane season. The beginning of September considered the worst time.
At the moment, there is a potential tropical storm developing in the Atlantic. One hundred seventy five miles east of Marathon. Not a big deal. Yet. Winds 30 miles per hour. The lower keys will receive 2-4 inches of rain today through tomorrow morning.
The storm not named yet. Not considered a problem till it hits the Gulf. It is projected it will then develop into a tropical storm or hurricane. Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana have been warned they could be in trouble.
Last year, it was Irma. Hit the lower keys September 10. Projected as a category 5. Hit Key West as a 1. However, Cudjoe north to Marathon a 4. Significant damage. One year later, recovery still ongoing. Homes destroyed, debris not removed, people living in tents, people without food, etc.
Labor Day 1935 the worst up to that time. A category 5. One hundred eighty five miles per hour when it hit land near Islamorada. Surge 18-20 feet. Islamorada obliterated. Portions of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway damaged or destroyed. Four hundred eighty five killed.
Death and destruction. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The most intense hurricane to have struck the United States up to that time.
Six hundred ninety five World War I veterans were working on the Overseas Highway. Several camps in the area. A rescue train left Miami at 4:25 pm. Several delays on the way due to a number of non storm related problems. The rescue train did not arrive till 8:20 pm.
It arrived just as the storm surge hit Islamorada. The train’s 11 cars were swept off the tracks. Only the locomotive and tender remained.
Railroad bridges destroyed. Never to be rebuilt. It was the end of the Railway.
Corpses all over the place. The humidity and heat outrageous. Bodies swelling. Splitting open three days after the storm. Health officials concerned. Bodies buried or cremated. Mostly cremated. Some merely thrown in piles and incinerated. Others placed in wood boxes, piled on one another, and then cremated.
The greater percentage of the dead were veterans working on the Overseas Highway.
Though the railroad bed was of no use, certain portions of the road bed and bridges survived. They became part of the Overseas Highway which was completed in 1938. The Highway connected Key West and Miami.
Ernest Hemingway assisted in rescue efforts. He initially rode out the hurricane at his home in Key West. Then hurried up the keys by boat to help. He was incensed by the devastation and deaths.
Hemingway blamed the U.S. government of negligence in sending the veterans to work in the keys during hurricane season. He wrote a critical article titled Who Killed The Veterans which was published in The New Masses magazine.
Hemingway viewed the veterans as unwitting victims of a system that appeared to lack concern for their welfare.
Hemingway was correct. The federal government had forgotten their obligation to those who fought in World War I. Veterans had earlier protested in Washington. Following which the government settled them in work camps such as those that were situated on the Overseas Highway.
The government had a study made to determine responsibility for the deaths of the veterans. The study determined it was an Act of God. A whitewash.
The government did not care and did not want to bear responsibility. Shades of Trump and Puerto Rico.
The National Commander of the American Legion at the time was Ray Murphy. He blamed the loss of life on “Inefficiency, Indifference, and Ignorance.”
The inefficiency the manner in which the camps were set up. The indifference in that no one was in charge of safety. The ignorance that no one understood the real danger from a tropical storm.
May such a storm never occur again. A hope. It will. Recall Andrew in 1992. Wiped out Homestead and the Air Force Base nearby. Ninety five percent of the structures in Homestead leveled.
I appreciate that today’s blog concerns the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane. I would be remiss however if I failed to mention Terri White. A force unto herself.
This past year found Terri falling into total blindness. A gutsy lady. A professional singer. Many Broadway shows to her credit.
She still works.
Saturday night, Terri sang at Blue Macaw. Sunday morning at Hard Rock Cafe. Tonight part of Dueling Bartenders at Aqua.
Enjoy your day!
Irma reminded me just how quickly “paradise” can sour…..I’m happy to see this year has been favorable thus far to the Keys and Key west.
Lou, are you at liberty to disclose Teri’s stage name?
I will not forget the sound of Irma.